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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
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    Littlerock, California, USA
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    934

    Default Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Keeping bees in the High Desert seems to be a tough go. The dearth pretty much starts in August and the last freeze is in April. The winters are somewhat mild but we do have nights into the teens and daytime temps that often keep the bees indoors. I have seen hail on Memorial Day, 90* days in November and 4' of snow in a single day in December, not all in the same year, but it happens. I usually start in spring with four hives, either packages or if I am lucky a couple of overwintered hives. Typically my hives go into winter with a small cluster in two 11 frame double deep boxes with 15 to 18 frames of stores. My winter losses are 50-75% due primarily to starvation from the cluster "chimneying" up the middle of the hive. There is honey on both sides of the dead cluster just the next frame over. So here's the question, what should I be doing differently?
    “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end”

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    St. Albans, Vermont
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    5,122

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Feed protein in August/September to boost brood rearing to make larger clusters of young bees going into winter?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Location
    Indiana
    Posts
    27

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Maybe switch to a top bar hive?????????

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    San Mateo, CA
    Posts
    4,646

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    I think your bees are dying of mites and or mite vectored viruses and you have mis-diagnosed their cause of death. You could also consider that there are climates where bees can not sustainably be kept. Maybe you are in one. Are there feral bees successfully living on their own in your neighborhood?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Victoria, Australia
    Posts
    657

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Use long hives.

    Put the brood nest up against one end of the hive before winter. Then they can only go one direction, and must go onto each frame to get to the next.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Ludington, Michigan
    Posts
    611

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    make candy boards and put them in in mid winter

  7. #7

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    I'm with odfrank. Varroa can result in a small, unsustainable winter cluster. Do a mite count before season's end. Whether you choose to treat or not...it might explain your losses.
    Dan www.boogerhillbee.com
    Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    McClure, OH
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    966

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    I agree with the posters above that you should investigate why you end up with small clusters. You might want to try overwintering in tall nucs, a 5 x 5 which will be equivalent to a single or a 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 which would be equivalent to a standard double deep. You might also consider adding a candy board on the top.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    Reno, NV
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    2,609

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    I am also high mountain dessert. last freeze is May 15th first is October 15th. Our last flow from Rabbit Brush begins after first frost. Have the same chilly nights you would have year round. and I have seen it snow on July 4th.

    I do not go into winter with small clusters. I did have one hive last year with a tiny cluster and they still survived to spring. That was a bad queen situation.

    I feed my bees going into fall so they have a full deep of bees and a full box of stores. my bees are still bringing in pollen. Thanks to the sage brush. I have heard that some beekeepers move their bees to Nevada in the late summer just to let them prep for winter. I found my bees bringing in pollen in February.

    Overall impression so far. strong colonies will survive. Your bees are not starving. they have food. they are freezing. There is a difference if you think about it.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
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    Littlerock, California, USA
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    934

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Wow! Such great responses, Thank you
    I am in too deep with Langstroth hives to switch to top bar or other equipment. I do have some nucs to experiment with, I will have to make some upper boxes or modify a couple of them since the bottom boards are attached.
    Usually I do an inspection every two weeks or so, probably less often in real time. Basically I am looking for brood, bee bread and nectar/honey stores. If I find brood of all stages, no dead bees and no DWV I am happy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    Feed protein in August/September to boost brood rearing to make larger clusters of young bees going into winter?
    This year I am trying open feeding of pollen substitute since September for this reason. The girls are all over it and bringing it into the hives like crazy. I have already noticed more activity at the entrances and orientation flights. I believe this is a good sign.

    Quote Originally Posted by odfrank View Post
    I think your bees are dying of mites and or mite vectored viruses and you have mis-diagnosed their cause of death. You could also consider that there are climates where bees can not sustainably be kept. Maybe you are in one. Are there feral bees successfully living on their own in your neighborhood?
    Heads in cells with tongues sticking out, cluster intact and queen in the center. Typically located in the center frames up to the inner cover. Could be something else mite related. I have had DWV in a hive this spring but it cleared up and they are still surviving. And I do not treat for mites. I do treat for Nosema though. I do believe that this area is a tough place for bees but I believe it is doable. There are other beeks in my area, mostly hobbyists like me. My closest association is in a completely different climate several miles away. We do have bees in our area. I cannot be certain that they are feral or not. This year I have had two usurpation attempts and I assume those are AHB or AHB hybrid.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Y View Post
    I am also high mountain desert. Last freeze is May 15th first is October 15th. Our last flow from Rabbit Brush begins after first frost. Have the same chilly nights you would have year round. And I have seen it snow on July 4th.
    I do not go into winter with small clusters. I did have one hive last year with a tiny cluster and they still survived to spring. That was a bad queen situation.
    I feed my bees going into fall so they have a full deep of bees and a full box of stores. My bees are still bringing in pollen. Thanks to the sage brush. I have heard that some beekeepers move their bees to Nevada in the late summer just to let them prep for winter. I found my bees bringing in pollen in February.
    Overall impression so far, strong colonies will survive. Your bees are not starving. They have food. They are freezing. There is a difference if you think about it.
    Your input is duly noted, thank you. I believe that our climates are very similar. This year I have changed up my technique a little, I hope for the better. I plan to make summer splits in 2014 too. As previously noted this year I am open feeding pollen substitute and just put out a syrup feeder this month. The bees are not yet interested in the feeder which is strange because it is robbing season big time here.

    I am sure I will think of more later thanks again for all of your valuable responses.
    “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end”

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Cookeville, TN, USA
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    3,593

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    If they actually are starving Mt camp sugar right on the top bars will prevent it. Just a peak under the lid will let you see if they need more. Then If you let them run out that is beekeeper error.
    5Y-25H-T-Z6b

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    McClure, OH
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    966

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    You could use follower boards in your regular deeps to make them narrower. Think of a solid wood frame that fits tight side to side and top to bottom without leaving beespace. Also you might make a candy board for this winter.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Weakened overwinter bees from mite parasitism...both during development and after often fail as you've described. It isn't uncommon to have heavily infested hives without seeing DWV.
    So I'm sure I understand...you aren't doing mite counts?
    Dan www.boogerhillbee.com
    Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    Reno, NV
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    2,609

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Quote Originally Posted by ccar2000 View Post
    The bees are not yet interested in the feeder which is strange because it is robbing season big time here.
    I have sen this reluctance to fed as well several times. as far as I can tell it is associated with cooler nights. I also suspect that if you feed sugar syrup and it cools down at night the bees will be slower to start taking it the following day. Nights below 50 seem to be a breaking point.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    Littlerock, California, USA
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    934

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Believe me, I am keeping all of these ideas and notes for reference. Thanks again for sharing your ideas and experiences.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    If they actually are starving Mt camp sugar right on the top bars will prevent it. Just a peak under the lid will let you see if they need more. Then If you let them run out that is beekeeper error.
    Thank you for the tip David, others have recommended the Mt Camp method as well. I will make that part of my overwintering strategy, adding an empty super with sugar on a newspaper.

    Quote Originally Posted by merince View Post
    You could use follower boards in your regular deeps to make them narrower. Think of a solid wood frame that fits tight side to side and top to bottom without leaving beespace. Also you might make a candy board for this winter.
    Okay, I could do that instead of using 8 or 5 frame equipment, right?

    Quote Originally Posted by beemandan View Post
    Weakened overwinter bees from mite parasitism...both during development and after often fail as you've described. It isn't uncommon to have heavily infested hives without seeing DWV.
    So I'm sure I understand...you aren't doing mite counts?
    Correct I am not doing mite counts, nor using miticides. I do treat for Nosema twice a year.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Y View Post
    I have seen this reluctance to fed as well several times. as far as I can tell it is associated with cooler nights. I also suspect that if you feed sugar syrup and it cools down at night the bees will be slower to start taking it the following day. Nights below 50 seem to be a breaking point.
    The feeder I have set up this year is a hive top feeder set on an empty deep box and bottom board. This is something new I am trying. We are still having day time temps in the 70s and in the 40s at night. I realize that the bees will not take the syrup when the temps drop into the 50s. I placed the open feeder in an area away from my hives that gets full sun. I realize now that I did it too late. Next year I will set it out earlier, maybe mid-August.
    “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end”

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Bertie County,NC
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    797

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    I think you would be more successful using 5 frame equipment to overwinter in. Actually I am beginning to think that five frame equipment may be the best to overwinter in regardless of location. You will definitely have to watch closely for build-up in the spring to prevent swarming (if swarm prevention is important to you). But I believe that 5 frame equipment allows the bees to use the entire space inside the hive which in turn allows the cluster to use all of their stores and not leave the edges. Also when we reduce from 8 or 10 frame equipment to 5 frame late in the season we increase the size of the cluster in relationship to size of the box which I believe creates a better environment for success.

    If your bees are only using the middle 5 or 6 frames in each box, and a few of those (maybe 3) go into winter as empty brood frames, with the current set-up, they are going into winter with approx. 6-9 frames of stores that they will actually use (even if they have 15-18 full frames of stores,the rest is useless if they are leaving it). So if you give them the 5 frame boxes and allow them to naturally "chimney up", I think you could be successful with 3 deep 5 frame boxes at the most. With 3 deep five frames you could have approx. 12 frames of "usable" stores ( if they go into winter with the same 3 empty brood frames) which gives you almost double the usable stores than what you have been getting.

    Even though the set up I am suggesting gives you only approx. 12 frames of stores, and you current set-up gives you 15-18 frames of stores, if the bees are leaving 8-10 frames and not eating it, in the long run the 12 frames will be more effective.

    Just my opinion...so take it with a grain of salt!

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    Evansville, IN
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    2,224

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    I don't have a great deal of experience here, but will suggest the following:

    Feed protein - unless you KNOW you have adequate pollen diversity and amounts, it's likely you have protein deficient bees going into winter and they are dying of protein starvation.

    Treat for mites (MAQS -- formic acid -- would be my choice). If you get a huge mite fall, bingo. Check your deadouts for tiny white specks in the brood cells, too -- the bees will not be strong enough to clean them out. They are mite feces, diagnostic for PMS.

    If you are not doing so, wrap your hives. A howling winter wind in the hive will keep them clustered more than if the air in there is still and warms up on sunny days, this will allow them better access to the combs at the sides.

    Strong clusters will winter better than small weak ones, I think, and not really use much more honey. I don't think you are short on honey though, just the ability of the bees to use it.

    Hopefully you can find a way to keep them going all winter with minor losses, you get much more honey that way.

    Peter

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    Littlerock, California, USA
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    934

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Quote Originally Posted by NewJoe View Post
    I think you would be more successful using 5 frame equipment to overwinter in. Actually I am beginning to think that five frame equipment may be the best to overwinter in regardless of location. You will definitely have to watch closely for build-up in the spring to prevent swarming (if swarm prevention is important to you). But I believe that 5 frame equipment allows the bees to use the entire space inside the hive which in turn allows the cluster to use all of their stores and not leave the edges. Also when we reduce from 8 or 10 frame equipment to 5 frame late in the season we increase the size of the cluster in relationship to size of the box which I believe creates a better environment for success.

    If your bees are only using the middle 5 or 6 frames in each box, and a few of those (maybe 3) go into winter as empty brood frames, with the current set-up, they are going into winter with approx. 6-9 frames of stores that they will actually use (even if they have 15-18 full frames of stores,the rest is useless if they are leaving it). So if you give them the 5 frame boxes and allow them to naturally "chimney up", I think you could be successful with 3 deep 5 frame boxes at the most. With 3 deep five frames you could have approx. 12 frames of "usable" stores ( if they go into winter with the same 3 empty brood frames) which gives you almost double the usable stores than what you have been getting.

    Even though the set up I am suggesting gives you only approx. 12 frames of stores, and you current set-up gives you 15-18 frames of stores, if the bees are leaving 8-10 frames and not eating it, in the long run the 12 frames will be more effective.

    Just my opinion...so take it with a grain of salt!
    Thank you for your well thought out advice Joe. I have read it through and thought it out but honestly, just don't think I want to do that much preparation moving in and out of 5-frame equipment. The strategy you describe sounds solid. Thank you. I think I am leaning towards sugar bricks or Mt Camp method.
    “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end”

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Elkton, Giles, Tennessee, USA
    Posts
    1,242

    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Interesting thread. A dozen or more responses and IMO all are correct. Must be some kind of record. If you are satisfied with letting colonies die from mite effects, and that's your choice, learn to live with it.

    Of the other responses, Mr. Palmer's suggestion of increasing young bee numbers (brood) in the early fall is likely your best bet. You should have two brood cycles of essentially a deep of brood in Sept. and Oct. in a double deep. Check it now and see what you have. The fact that they are working your dry protein supply vigorously now would add some credibility to that theme.

    Walt

  20. #20
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    Aug 2009
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    Littlerock, California, USA
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    Default Re: Winter clusters chimney up and starve out

    Quote Originally Posted by psfred View Post
    I don't have a great deal of experience here, but will suggest the following:

    Feed protein - unless you KNOW you have adequate pollen diversity and amounts, it's likely you have protein deficient bees going into winter and they are dying of protein starvation.

    Treat for mites (MAQS -- formic acid -- would be my choice). If you get a huge mite fall, bingo. Check your deadouts for tiny white specks in the brood cells, too -- the bees will not be strong enough to clean them out. They are mite feces, diagnostic for PMS.

    If you are not doing so, wrap your hives. A howling winter wind in the hive will keep them clustered more than if the air in there is still and warms up on sunny days, this will allow them better access to the combs at the sides.

    Strong clusters will winter better than small weak ones, I think, and not really use much more honey. I don't think you are short on honey though, just the ability of the bees to use it.

    Hopefully you can find a way to keep them going all winter with minor losses, you get much more honey that way.

    Peter
    Peter, this year (since August) I am free feeding pollen substitute, I tried feeding some store bought pollen from one of the beekeeping suppliers but they had nothing to do with that. They have been going through the "brood builder" dry substitute like crazy, they seem to be leaving some granular component of it behind, maybe it is sugar? Perhaps that will help with what you and others are recommending for protein. I think that they have pretty good natural pollen diversity and so they do have bee bread stores. I think you might be onto something as Daniel Y was saying they may be freezing as well. I suppose it would not hurt to be a little more proactive and wrap the hives this year. I do not treat for the mites but will take your advice on looking for the mite feces in any dead outs from this winter. Thanks for you help.
    Last edited by ccar2000; 10-10-2013 at 10:52 PM.
    “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end”

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