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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
    Posts
    5,033

    Default Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    I'm doing my winter preparations and was wondering what others are doing around the country (and other countries). This sort of thread could be especially helpful for new beekeepers going into their first or second winter.

    This last week, I inspected my home yard. Naturally, this time of year is a critical one for mites, mite loads, and under other philosophies when mites are treated. I found one hive that had an obvious visible heavy mite load. Since it is too late to requeen and it's not going to get treated, unless this is some sort of magical hive, I'm expecting it to die. However, since I don't test for mite loads and set arbitrary limits on the numbers of mites that can be found and dealt with, who really knows what kind of mite load a hive can survive with? It's a good opportunity to watch and learn. I haven't had a hive die due to a mite infestation for a long time and this hive was a new split this year. I can only expect a certain number of new hives to survive, it's part of the winnowing process. If this queen was a good mite resistant queen like her mother, she may have mated with a bunch of drones who weren't. That's farming.

    We had a very hard summer. I measured temperatures at my home on one occasion to be 114.8F degrees in the shade. That combined with extended periods of 105+ temperatures, no rain, and no blooming flowers as a result, left none of the hives with much honey to speak of. I'm expecting a dieoff of feral hives to a certain extent, though I think it is possible for smaller hives to have collected enough honey in the fall to be able to overwinter. It's kinda like overwintering nucs.

    Thus, I've needed to spend a lot of money on sugar. I've been feeding as much as I can over the last month or so, and now as temperatures get colder, it is coming to the point where the bees will no longer accept syrup and I'll need to make a last ditch try with granulated sugar.

    A nice gentleman from Texas insisted on buying two nucs from me two weeks ago. I told him it might not be a good idea for him buy nucs this time of year, but it's hard to say no when someone offers to pay you to take your risks from you. Also, I lost two hives over the summer but there wasn't much to do as far as post-mortem, they were both just gone. I'd guess it was failure to requeen. This leaves me with 13 hives going into winter, the most I've gone in with since 2004 or so.

    I recently watched Michael Palmer's presentation on incorporating nucs into one's operation. http://vimeo.com/23178333 It's a fantastic video. The sound isn't great, but it's well worth the time to watch. I believe keeping nucs like he does will really add to the efficacy of treatment-free beekeeping. I already have six five-frame nuc boxes and a 4x4-frame nuc gadget and so next year I'm adding a major push toward nucs as part of my to-do list. At the same time, I'm learning how to graft and produce my own queens on a larger scale. They go perfectly together. Also, since I'm slowly switching to medium boxes exclusively, it seems to me that the 4-frame deep nucs Mr. Palmer uses would translate well into 6-frame medium nucs. Nucs are very easy to make from 1/2" plywood and very cost efficient over purchasing pre-made.

    How about you?
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Fairview, TN
    Posts
    49

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    Well, I bought my first two hives in May so this will be my first winter. I had a few queen issues and will be going into winter with one hive. I did a newspaper combine in early August and it went well. One month ago I sugar dusted and did a mite count and found only two. I dusted two weeks ago and didn't find any. Even though I have heard to dust 3-4 times on 10 day increments, I didn't do that. I don't think I have a problem but thought it wouldn't hurt to take out a couple mites with a dusting or two. Just a fyi, I have all 8 frame mediums and 4.9 bees. I got my bees from Wolf Creek and woodenware from Bon Aqua Springs and both have been very helpful with the many questions I had. I also live in Fairview, TN so your weather should be about the same. My hive didn't seem to have enough stores so I have been feeding alot the last part of the summer and fall. The last time I checked two weeks ago, I did see a SHB larva and a couple adult SHB. I do want to check them at least one more time so hopefully the weather will permit that. Hopefully I won't find anymore larva. I had a more experienced beekeeper come over last time and he thought I might need to shake them out of the top super and leave them with three going into the winter. The fourth isn't fully drawn anyways and he said it would help retain heat and that would be less to worry about SHB and wax moth taking over. I use beetle blasters with diatomaceous earth( 1 per box). It has worked well but I wonder if I should use oil from here on out since it will be a while before I get to change them out. I guess the last thing I might consider before it stays cold would be to take the entrance reducer off(it's on the large hole now) and use hardware cloth to help with ventilation. I have a SBB. Do people in our area put the board back in or leave it open during the winter? Thanks and by the way, I do like your blog. I seem to have the same goals of being treatment free. I am just trying to learn as much as I can. I also would like to build a few of my own nucs and maybe do a split in the spring but I haven't gotten any honey yet so I am not for sure I want to do that in the spring.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Auckland,Auckland,New Zealand
    Posts
    5,718

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    Is the diatomaceous earth used inside the hive? If so, it may cost you some bees. Oil could be better.

    Soloman, when those hives died you really should have done a post mortem. Otherwise how do you know what's going on?
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Fairview, TN
    Posts
    49

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    It is used in beetle blasters which are inside my hive. It seems to have worked ok so far and I guess there is no way of knowing if any bees have died from it but SHB and ants have. I used oil first but I spilt it a few times when taking the traps out to inspec but I might have had too much oil in there. I think I will try oil again since it last longer. DE only last a couple months and moisture makes in ineffective.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Auckland,Auckland,New Zealand
    Posts
    5,718

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    Well I guess if you feel it's not having any measurable effect on the hive you could stay with it.

    I know what you are saying about oil . I made an oil tray based screened bottom board once to try. Never again!
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
    Posts
    5,033

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    ...you really should have done a post mortem. Otherwise how do you know what's going on?
    I would have loved to have found something I could interpret but like I said, they were just gone. No sign of disease, no mites laying about, no bees with heads in cells, no brood, capped or otherwise, just empty comb with moths starting to move in. I assume either failed requeening or perhaps absconding. In the past, laying worker hives that have died often have drones still capped but I didn't see any of that either.

    Unlike many others, mid summer is not a time when I go farting about in the yard. Any manipulation can trigger massive robbing due to absolute lack of available nectar. Plus there's the fact that it's burning hot. So July-August are my non-beekeeping months. There's literally nothing worth doing during that time because of the temperature. My shop is not air conditioned at this time. The rest of the year, there's plenty to do inside/outside the hives.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Auckland,Auckland,New Zealand
    Posts
    5,718

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    Ok Sol well even that is half way to a diagnosis.

    The total absense of brood tells you it was not varroa, as there would have been dead brood. It was not AFB, or a drone laying queen, for the same reason. There was no honey, and you say it was burning hot. Those things can cause absconding. But even absconding bees will usually leave a bit of brood behind, so it was likely, as you said, the queen failed for whatever reason, and then the hive went hopelessly queenless, and then absconded leaving no brood. A hatched queen cell somewhere would have fitted this diagnosis. If the dearth you mentioned was long term, it could also be slow hand to mouth existance rather than a fast starvation, to where they stopped brood raising completely, then died or absconded.

    There would have likely been a few other little clues, such as maybe cappings on the floor, etc.

    I guess I'm a diagnosis freak, but to me it's important. For a commercial beek, a loss of 2 hives out of your number of hives, scaled up to the size of his operation, would be a huge loss. So diagnosis is important. Once it's narrowed down to a particular cause, such as failed queens, any commercial guy who wants to make a reasonable profit, would then look up the history of those queens, such as where they were bought, how they were raised or whatever, and make sure to fix that problem for the future. Or whatever problem it was he would sort it for next time.

    I so often see people just shrug their shoulders when their hives die, and assume it's just a mystery. But it's an important skill understanding why the hive died, if a person can do that and put steps in place to prevent it next time, they'll end up not losing hives.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Powhatan, Va
    Posts
    2

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    I'm in central Va. We have had temps in the upper 70s until today and it took a dive into the 50s with expected lows in the 30s tonight and the next week. I am going into my first winter with my 2 hives and I was wondering....do I have to put the cardboard onto my screened bottom or do I just put on the entrance reducer on the biggest opening or smallest?

    I have seen a few varroa mites but did not treat for any because upon examination of my entire upper deeps I saw one mite on a bee back in August. I saw a bee outside the hive this morning with a mite on it but since I haven't seen any significant numbers I didn't treat. I am trying to do this chemical free. I feel like it will only help the bees get stronger eventually to not treat and have a naturally resistant hive. I understand that this could be risky but I feel it is worth it.

    Our hives sit on a wooden table about 20 inches off the ground so if I only put on the entrance reducer would that be sufficient enough or should I insert the bottom board as well? Our temps rarely get below the teens and usually hover at the lowest in the upper 20s to lower 30s during the coldest part of the winter and we usually don't get a lot of snow. They are in a spot where they will get full sun.

    Any advice for the newbie?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Utica, NY
    Posts
    9,014

    Default Re: Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    But it's an important skill understanding why the hive died, if a person can do that and put steps in place to prevent it next time, they'll end up not losing hives.
    How long do you expect it takes to learn that skill?
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

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