Archives for posts with tag: winter

I’m happy to report that my single hive from the end of 2014 has survived the winter into 2015. Last week the weather was nice enough – above 15°C – that I could open the hive and see how the bees were doing. I’ve posted a few pictures below, and here is a general report on the hive’s health:

My hive is 2 deep boxes with both a bottom and top entrance. This colony was a swarm that I captured last year, which was from a swarm captured the previous year. So this lineage has proven itself over a couple winters. I did not wrap or insulate this hive. It was left for the winter as you see it in the first picture below.

When I approached the hive, I could see a few bees using the bottom entrance, but most were using the top entrance/ventilation that I had put in place last fall. After I opened up the hive, I could see the reason why the top entrance was more popular. The bottom board of this hive was covered with about 2 inches of dead bees (pictured below). The moisture levels in the hive were quite high and there was some mould on the bottom board as well. I scraped off all the dead bees into the forest nearby. I left the top ventilation in place to help control any moisture that was present in the hive.

There were still plenty of bees within the hive, and the top box was still quite heavy with honey. I may swap the boxes in a few weeks if I go back and things are still looking good.

I was quite happy to see that there were a few bees bringing pollen into the hive. This is a great sign of spring and it means that the bees have found flowers and food!

I will be keeping a close eye on this hive for the next few weeks. A couple years ago, excessive moisture in my hives led to chalkbrood, which I didn’t catch early on. I want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen this year. Hopefully this colony will build up its numbers and perhaps I can split it and start a new colony. I will also be on the lookout for swarms around me this spring. I’m aiming to have 3 healthy hives going into winter this year.

Hive 2 deeps Top entrance on bee hive Bees in Ontario 2015 Honeybee survival 2015 Dead bees 2015 Ontario Bee survival rate 2015 Winter entrance bee hive

I recently discovered that my Langstroth hives have both died over this past winter. In the video above, I perform an autopsy on the hives to try and determine what killed them.

In the first hive, it looks like the bees may have starved after a really long and cold winter. I believe I missed an opportunity to feed them in early spring. They only had a tiny bit of honey left and it was on the opposite side of the hive. In the second colony, I actually removed 10 full frames of honey from the two deep boxes – more than enough to survive the winter. I suspect the chalkbrood that had plagued them in the fall didn’t allow them to build up their colony to a size that was necessary to survive the winter.

I’ll be on the lookout for swarms this spring to get new bees to populate these sad, empty hives.

The weather this past weekend was beautiful and I decided to check my hive. The temperature was supposedly around 10 degrees Celsius, but it felt a bit cooler than that. To play it safe, we did not open the hive more than just the outer (AKA telescoping) cover.

The good news is that as of March 30, 2013, I still have bees! (Although I don’t want to speak too soon.) I won’t yet consider this a successful “overwinter” until there is lots of forage available and I’ve seen the next generation of worker born and working.

The bees are still clustered at the top of the hive, and those that are making cleansing flights are doing so from the ventilation that I added in the fall, instead of the lower entrance. I guess that’s OK. I’m willing to bet they’ll return to the proper entrance once things pick up in a few weeks.

Last weekend we received over 30cm of snow in a single day. 48 hours after that, I decided I should probably go check on my hive to make sure it wasn’t buried. I was especially nervous after seeing Phillip’s hive buried after a Newfoundland Blizzard over at Mud Songs.

When I got to my hive, I could see that the entrance was in fact blocked with snow and ice. I then also noticed signs that bees had relieved themselves (somehow) out of my inner cover ventilation and down the side of the hive. This was probably because they had no way out of the entrance. Things didn’t look good.

I went around to the entrance and scooped away the snow and ice. Behind this, there was a layer of dead bees. I found a nearby twig and used it to scoop out some dead bees from the entrance and clear the way back out of the hive.

While I was doing this, I could hear a faint humming coming from my hive. I pressed my ear up against the boxes and sure enough, I could hear bees inside – alive and buzzing beautifully! It was literally music to my ears.

Of course, it’s only February and much too soon to consider this a successful overwinter, but things are looking sounding good! (Knock on wood).

What happens to bees in the winter?

During the winter months, honeybees cluster together to stay warm inside the hive. They do not hibernate like some animals. They still function (at a much slower pace) and move throughout the hive as a coordinated colony consuming the honey that they stored the previous summer.

Contrary to what you may think, cold is not the biggest threat to bees over the winter. In fact, it is moisture and condensation that can kill entire colonies of bees.

Bees are quite good at staying warm all winter long. Each honeybee can detach her flying muscles from her wings and use those same muscles to generate heat by vibrating. The bees then cluster tightly within the hive. It remains a balmy 35° Celcius at the centre of the cluster, all winter long.

Because of the warmth inside the hive, without adequate ventilation, condensation will form on the top of the hive and then drip down on top of the cluster. It’s this moisture that will kill bee colonies over the winter. Proper ventilation is crucial to the survival of honeybees when the weather is cold outside.

Adding ventilation

There are numerous ways to add ventilation to a hive. When adding ventilation to my hive, I wanted to add sufficient ventilation while still protecting my hive from robbing¹. After researching online and listening to others at my local beekeeping association, I came up with the idea of using a paint stir-stick on top of my inner cover in order to add a nice gap under the outer cover, sheltered from the elements and small enough to guard against robbing.

I simply cut up a paint stick into short lengths and then glued one small portion to the four corners of my inner cover. Since this portion of the inner cover is not considered “inside” the actual hive, it’s unlikely that the bees will fill the small gaps with propolis the way they would do if the gap was on the underside of the inner cover.

The whole process took only a few seconds to cut and glue the the paint stick and the cost was free, since you can pick up these sticks at just about any hardware store that sells paint.

Paint stick cut up
A honey bee on stir stick ventilation
Paint sticks glued to inner cover

¹ Robbing occurs when other wasps, honeybees or insects get into the hive through an unguarded entrance and steal valuable honey from within.