March has drawn to a close and SPRING is officially here. Last week Mother Nature was partially cooperating and provided us with a few days with a high in the 50’s and sun. The survivor bees are out doing orientation flights and searching for pollen. A few bees were seen returning with pollen from the maple and pussy willow trees.
I went out at the end of March and did a final survey of my hives concerning winter survival. The accepted period for winter survival measurements is from October 1st thru March 31st. But be forewarned that it is not uncommon for some hives to simply dwindle away even with the warmer weather. My hive survival rate was 88.6%. Even my experiment with wintering over nucs was successful; there the survival rate was 91.6%. The combined survival rate being 89.4%. I am a happy beekeeper.
As discussed in a previous blog article, this past 2018-2019 winter was slightly more severe than the 2017-2018 winter when all of us had poor winter survival. I had ended up with miserable 40% hive survival for the 2018-2019 winter and 0% winter nuc survival. What did I do different? Heavier fall feeding, but also more attention at controlling varroa throughout the summer and fall. I would aggressive varroa control as the primary factor for the higher survival.
Beekeepers Gerard, Jon and Grandpa Jack are also reporting good survival; 83%, 77.7% and 85.7% survival respectively. They also had practiced aggressive mite control last year which we presented during last December’s club meeting. Each of us used slightly different control methods. It appears we were all successful especially considering that normal winter survival was about 80 to 90% prior to varroa. We will continue discussing mite control at future ECWBA club meetings.
My apiary had three (3) queens types going into winter; Russians, Ankle Biters and Saskatraz. The survival rates of the different queen types were all similar; with a range of 83 to 90%. Given good mite control, queen type appears to not make much of difference. Even last year’s package queens (all Saskatraz) had excellent winter survival. I guess I can no longer blame “package queens” for my previous low survival rates.
One last item on winter survival. Two of my hives were in buildings with an entrance through the wall. I consider these hives “wrapped”. These two hives died. The remainder of my hives were “unwrapped”. The “unwrapped” hive survival rate was 94%! Of course, I have positioned the hives behind wind breaks so that they are not exposed to north or northwest winds.
With April here what is next on the beekeeper’s agenda? It always better to “be prepared”.
1) Remove the mouse guards. The entrance reducer opening can still be the one inch (1”) opening, but by the end of April can be opened to the four inch (4”) opening.
2) Clean out your deadouts. Its better to do it before warm weather arrives and mold begins growing on the dead bees. You need to complete it also before installing replacement bees.
3) If you need packages or nucs to repopulate hives make sure to get them on order. It may already be too late.
4) Early April is usually still too cold and you should NOT be poking around in your surviving hives. However, on sunny days with temperatures in the 60’s it is OK to pop open the cover and assess of condition of the survivor hives. Do not pull frames which could cause chilling and death the brood. Yes, we should be seeing 60 degree days in April!
5) If you suspect a hive is dwindling, then action is required. In this case it will be necessary to pull frames to verify there is a queen. Don’t be fooled by random drone brood from a laying worker. Sometimes if there is a queen, the hive can be stimulated by adding a frame of bees and brood from a strong hive. The added worker population and their warmth helps get them going. If there are laying workers, the best course of action is usually to salvage what you can by combining the dwindling hive with another hive.
6) Get the hives ready for the new packages or nucs. Clean the bottom boards, put feeders in place, scrape off old propolis, so you are not behind the curve when your new bees arrive.
7) Install new packages as soon as possible. Keep them supplied with 1 to 1 sugar syrup until the start of the honey flow. A pollen patty may be necessary if the bees are not seen bringing in pollen or if the weather prevents foraging.
8) Stimulative feeding of overwintered hives is recommended using a 1 part sugar to 3 parts water. This promotes earlier brood rearing to get the population up prior to the June primary nectar flow. This syrup should be fed internally (don’t use external Boardman feeders) because night air temperatures are too cold and the bees will NOT utilize cold syrup.
9) For hives the survived the winter consider doing a mite treatment in early April. This will reduce mites and viruses spread by the mites.
10) Reversal of the brood chambers of over wintered hives should be put off until the second half of April. This would be a good time to also clean the bottom boards on surviving hives.