During our March club meeting we passed out a survey to gauge winter survival. I also added in data from a few local non-members where I knew the situation. This data was from 18 beekeepers; 10 members and 8 non-members covering a total of 143 hives in the ECWBA area of operation. The survey was anonymous and was not meant to flag winners or losers, but rather to gather data to help all beekeepers increase their winter survival. My feeling is that having good survival isn’t a simple matter of luck, but hard work and attention to details.
The best survival to date goes to a club member who had 6 of 7 hives (86%) surviving at this time. A close second went to a non-member visiting the club meeting from Appleton. He had 10 of 12 hives (83%) survive. These two respondents were in a league of their own. I will try to contact these individuals to get more details on their beekeeping practices so we can pass them along to everyone.
The next grouping was at the 50% survival level. This was composed of 3 club members. The author was in this group. (I can’t decide if I should feel good or terrible with this result. But I am determined to do better next winter. I am slowly analyzing each of my deadouts to ascertain whether mites or other causes were the reason for the hive’s demise and will report these results in a later post.)
There were two with 25% survival.
Finally, the bulk (13) of respondents with 12% or lower survival.
There are obviously lessons to be learned from the two beekeepers with good survival. I will try to contact these individuals to get more details on their beekeeping practices so that we can all learn from their success. They both indicated they treated against mites 3 or more times.
From the survey form I can see that they both also used screened bottom boards. Screened bottom boards do two things. One, they let dislodged mites fall through the screen and they can not climb back aboard a bee. Some data indicates this can reduce mite levels by up to 20%. Second, which may be more important, is that these beekeepers used the screened bottom boards to monitor mite levels. One respondent indicated he schedules a treatment if his weekly inspection of the sticky board below the screen shows more than 12 mites (roughly a 2 mite drop per day).
Mite resistant queens (Russians, VSH, Ankle Biters, Saskatraz) may be a key factor in improving survival, but is not a silver bullet. Four beekeepers reported their surviving hives had mite resistant queens. The beekeeper with the 85% survival reported using mite resistant queens (type unknown) in all hives.
Powdered sugar? The one respondent that used powdered sugar for mite control had 12% survival.
The only beekeeper that did not treat with either chemical or powdered sugar lost all hives.
The composite survival rate for club members (48%) beat the composite survival rate (28%) of non-members. However, when I take out the top four club performers the club composite rate drops to 36% survival. I also saw a report out of the Wisconsin state apiarist that hive loses have been running in the 50% range the last few years. This includes beekeepers that make their living with bees.
As stated above the survey was anonymous. If possible, I would like the two top performers to contact me, so I can quiz them a little more on their beekeeping techniques. Call Fred at 920-229-2204. Thank you.