Thursday, January 28, 2016

mid-winter hive check

I was wondering about my bees today and so I dropped an email to Tony at my local bee club and asked if I should be checking them in the winter. The answer was "Yes, I should". But not like a summer inspection. Tony recommended suiting up, but no smoker. He said to lift hives from the back to check their weight. If light, they've used up their winter honey stores. Finally, he said, lift the cover and check the location of the bees and if they're alive. If they're at the top of the topmost hive, they likely need feeding and should be fed with a winter recipe.

So, the weight of both my hive top boxes is very heavy. That's good. But I was disappointed when I opened the hives. I wish I had seen more bees. Being my first winter, I didn't really know what to expect, but I was hoping to see more. One hive had maybe a baseball-sized cluster, the other maybe a soft-ball. Both clusters were at the top and I couldn't see more than a scattered few bees elsewhere inside the frames using my flashlight. This didn't seem good to me.

While checking them, I became concerned about the hives' location. It was a nice warm day, mid 40's, but the hives were against the woods with a northeast exposure and it was cold there. Snow had melted from most other places, but not here. Around one of the hives, a large puddle had collected on top of ice and there were drowned bees in it. This was the hive with fewer bees in it and this one also had some dysentery on the face. It was probably a hasty decision, but I decided to move the hives to the other side of my yard. I didn't feel I had much to lose because there were so few bees left.

I picked up the top frame and placed it on an inverted trash can. It was all I could do to lift it - my guess at least 60 lbs of honey. The bottom box was light. I moved the base, (a mouse was living on the dirt underneath) and brought it to its new location using a wheelbarrow. Then I moved the bottom box, then the top. I repeated with second hive. I was pleased to get a good amount of bees buzzing around in the process, though it all went fast and smoothly.

The new location has a southwest exposure - it's just to the south of my vegetable garden. It was bright and sunny during the move. The bees hung out on the face of the hives and it seemed to me they enjoyed the sunbath. The afternoon sun had melted all the snow and thawed the top few inches of soil here. I don't think the chilly old location was getting more than an hour of early morning sun.

Nevertheless, I'm not feeling really good about these hives surviving the winter. I think I'll place an order now for a spring package.


  1. One thing I would comment is that bees are fine in a small cluster as long as they have enough to maintain the warmth needed to raise brood in late February. What I hate is when we get some warm days so the bees start raising brood and then a cold spell that prevents the flowers from starting up and then they go through the end of their winter stores before spring comes around.

  2. I'm glad to hear a small cluster may be ok. Thanks.

  3. This breaks my heart! I was really pulling for your bees. Do you think it's just newbie jitters? Maybe they're okay after all and they'll pull through.

  4. Well I certainly have newbie jitters. I worry about my bees all the time! I worried this summer even when it turned out they were doing great. I don't know what the answer is now. I like David's reply.

    But I still would like to know why they declined from so many bees last I checked them (I think it may have been October). Some people told me this would happen if I didn't do mite treatments. Some people told me it wouldn't - but I think most people do treat for mites. I did a sugar roll mid summer (August?) and saw no mites, but I'm afraid I didn't do it right. I bought Mite-Away, but never applied it because September was so hot and I wanted to put a honey on.

    Maybe they'll pull through. Maybe I'll have less jitters next year. Thanks for pulling for them!

  5. Hi Kathy, this is our first winter having bee hives. We purchased bees to set up two hives. All along my husband kept saying one was a weaker hive, not as strong. It was a bit pricey I thought for the purchase but maybe the going rate. Well the stronger hive did well during the spring and summer and we were excited about the amount of honey we got from the stronger hive. I would watch them and rooted them on. Unfortunately the weaker hive did not make it. My husband thought it had to do with the queen. We are in Oregon and don't have the severe winters that you have, but we get plenty of rain. What is interesting though is that on a few sunny days my husband noticed bees going into the nooks from last year. So he thinks there may be a swarm nearby. He is learning but he did say that it is not good to get moisture in the boxes. So it's kind of iffy. He did leave them with plenty of honey to get through the winter. We will see what happens. He would tell you to not give up.. I just set this blog up so I am not sure if I have everything in tact..