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  1. #1
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    Question For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    For those of you who have hard winters - like where you get long periods of temperatures well below freezing - what is a "strong" colony after winter?

    How many frames of bees usually come through in a full-size wintered colony? I'm sure it's less with nucs, but I'm just trying to get a sense of what the range of (good-average-poor) colony sizes after they've been through a typical frozen winter.

    So what's good? What's average? What's poor in your experience?

    Thanks,

    Adam

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
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    S Hadley, Massachusetts USA
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    For my hives the spring build up was very slow, Most hives had 5-7 frames of bees in March. Brood rearing was very slow. Only 2-3 frames of brood about the size of a grapefruit on each frame.

    I just added my first honey super to one of my wintered hives. They are building up pretty fast now. Bottom box had 8 full frames of brood and two frames of honey. Second box had 5 frames of brood and eggs and 5 frames of honey. I was shocked. All this in a matter of a couple weeks. All this from a hive that was sure to have starved this winter without two candy boards that were on them since Christmas.
    Pearl City Apiary Michael and Loucil Bach

  3. #3
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    Aug 2002
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    It depends on the race and what size they were going into winter. It also depends on how early they start building back up.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  4. #4
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    Dec 2006
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    To me, a strong colony in early spring has at least a full deep of bees, and often more. I noticed many colonies in late March to mid-April that have 2+ boxes of bees and are top to bottom in my 2 deep, 1- medium brood chamber. But, cluster size alone isn't a good judge of wintering. I use the number of frames of brood at dandelion as my guideline. I consider a strong colony to be one that has 9-12 frames of brood at dandelion bloom.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2008
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    Belfield, North Dakota, USA
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    We had a blizzard (8" of snow and winds of 50mph) on 30 April this year. 2009, we had 6" of snow on 6 June. The thing about ND is that winter isn't just hard - April (and sometimes May) are winter months! That said, if I have three solid frames of bees in late April/early May - that is typical. A typical hive will also have 2-3 frames of brood at dandelions. Anymore than that, I consider strong.

  6. #6
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    Mar 2011
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    I use the number of frames of brood at dandelion as my guideline. I consider a strong colony to be one that has 9-12 frames of brood at dandelion bloom.
    I wouldn't be disappointed if I had 9-12 frames in the summer. A nuc is 5 frames of bees so that would only be two or three frames of brood. If 9-12 is strong what do you consider weak ... less then a nuc or more?
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  7. #7
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    Nov 2009
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    This is very interesting - 9 to 12 frames of brood by dandelions - yeah, that seems strong alright. Wow, that's impressive. What would your average be, Mike P?

    Thanks,

    Adam

  8. #8
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    Quote Originally Posted by Acebird View Post
    If 9-12 is strong what do you consider weak ... less then a nuc or more?
    Anything less than 5 I consider weak, and requeen with a nuc.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    The average frames of brood? I never figured it that way.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    If you read the Hive and the Honeybee, you'll find reference to colony strength guidelines. Minimum brood frame count for honey producers...5 frames before dandelion and 10 at the end.

  11. #11
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    Dec 2008
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    Menomonee Falls, Wis.
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    I guess I have a different definition, strong is when you can split them, and have them up to strength by the honey flow. You don't make honey at the end of winter. I don't care what they look like after winter, just what they look like when the flow starts.

    Crazy Roland

  12. #12
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    Mar 2011
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    Anything less than 5 I consider weak, and requeen with a nuc.
    That sounds like it is the queens fault that the hive had a hard winter. You don't feel there is any merit to surviving the winter?
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  13. #13
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    Weak colonies that survived the winter won't make a honey crop. Add a nuc and you boost that colony and requeen it at the same time.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    Weak colonies that survived the winter won't make a honey crop. Add a nuc and you boost that colony and requeen it at the same time.
    Mike, Do you just add the nuc to the colony and let the bees sort it out, or do you kill the existing queen and combine?

    Adam

  15. #15
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    Default Re: For Those With Hard Winters: Judging a Wintered Colony's Strength

    Kill existing queen and unite over newspaper.

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