Its now April. Twentyone (21) of my hives are still surviving. That is an overall 48% survival rate. Three hives slowly dwindled away during the month of March despite looking strong at the beginning.
Overall survival of Russian queened hives was 62%. Overall survival of Italian queened hives was 27%. All Italian hives received a full dose of MAQS miticide in early September. The Russian hives either received a ½ dose or no MAQS. Both groups of Russians had approximately the same survival rate.
I now have had a chance to look at many of the dead-outs and analyze them as to the cause of their demise. This analysis yielded some obvious shortcomings in my winter preparation process. After considering everything I have come to several conclusions.
1) DON’T TRY TO OVERWINTER DINKS
My records and memory show that I tried to overwinter several (4) hives that would be considered dinks (weak colonies). Every recommendation from knowledgeable beekeepers is NOT to try to overwinter dinks. They consider doing this a waste of time and effort. Well they are right. Despite my good intentions and heavy feeding none of my dinks survived. A few of the dinks were new hives that I had started as late as August and September from 4 frame nucs. They just didn’t have a chance to increase their population or winter stores enough to survive.
2) INCREASE FALL FEEDING
I had many losses that I analyzed as starvation. I plan to up my feeding schedule for next fall after consulting with beekeepers that had higher survival rates. I had only fed 50% of my hives this year and at roughly 25 lb of sugar per hive. Next fall I will feed 100% of the hives and at a roughly 50 lb per hive rate. This change is based on the positive experience of two beekeepers that fed at this higher rate and had 100% survival. The cost of the additional sugar pales in comparison to the cost of replacements packages.
I will also try on a limited basis a 3 brood chamber wintering scheme recommended by the University of Minnesota. In this scheme the outer frames of honey from the lower brood chamber boxes are moved to a newly added (3rd) box above the cluster in the fall. In my experience the honey in these outer frames is never used by the bees. If it is presented to bees above the cluster they can easily access this honey as they move up through the hive in the winter.
A third possibility would be to just remove the queen excluder in the fall and leave all honey supers in place for the winter to ensure the bees have enough food. However, I'm not quite ready to take this step.
3) INSPECT FOR VIABLE QUEENS
My analysis of several dead-outs leads me to believe these hives were actually queenless before or soon after I applied the miticide last fall. So this year I will be marking all queens so that I can easily verify each hive has a live queen prior to starting fall feeding. No sense in feeding or trying to overwinter a queenless hive. I also had five or so hives go queenless during the course of the spring and summer.
4) In only one dead-out did I see some of the symptoms of deformed wing virus. Specifically, I saw bees with the short abdomens.
5) I had 6 hives that I had been running with 3 brood chambers. Mid-summer I decided to standardize on 2 brood chamber hives. So I moved the excluder from on top of the 3rd brood chamber to on top of the second brood chamber. I then removed the 3rd brood chamber when gathering honey supers. I fear this may have shorted these hives of too much of their winter stores. Only 2 of 6 of these reconfigured hives survived. These 6 were also of the group for which I did no fall feeding.
6) None of the top bar hives survived. Three (3) of the four (4) had mice in them when I cleaned them out this spring. After the mice messed up the inside of the hive I was not able to determine if the mice or other reasons were the cause of the hive’s demise. I haven’t cleaned out the fourth. The entrances of these hives are 3 feet off the ground. I wouldn’t have expected mice to climb that distance. At any rate I plan to get mouse guards for ALL hives for next winter.
I hope I remember these lessons learned next fall when I will again be preparing my hives for winter.
In the meantime April is here. Days are getting longer and warmer. On the warm days the survivor hive bees are busy searching out pollen for spring brood rearing. For April average daily highs are in the 50’s and average daily lows in the 30’s. April is a time of brood rearing. Hardly any nectar is available from flowering plants. If we get a few 70 degree days I will be looking at the strongest hives and determine from which I will begin raising queens. Mid to late April is also the time most bee packages are delivered in our area.
Here are the survival rates of a few other local beekeepers:
No. 1 8 hives 100% survival MAQS & heavy feeding
No. 2 20 hives 10% No miticide
No. 3 6 hives 50% MAQS
No. 4 3 hives 100% ????
No. 5 4 hives 25% No miticide
No. 6 9 hives 77% Oxalic acid
No. 7 3 hives 66% MAQS
In general those who treated for mites had the higher survival rates.