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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm a third-year beekeeper and have been learning a lot up here in central Maine. Had a good year, bad year, ok year. Now I'm trying to get through my third winter and though I have made a little progress, I'm still having trouble. Maybe someone can help point me in a better direction? Here's what I'm working on:

Since starting the first year with one package andhive, I've been starting in mid-April each year with a couple 3 lb packages. I have not had a hive make it through a winter yet. First year I took no honey, but the girls did well and I had a 3-medium brrod chamber plus 1 medium of honey on top.

I believe the problem that year was an early, very warm spell in January, and poor air circulation that caused excessive moisture inside the hive. The girls froze after the warm spell.

My second year I had two hives, but I still had too much moisture inside toward January/February and lost both. In each of these cases and the year before, there was plenty of honey in all hives.

One other thing I noted. The bees seemed to move up but did not work out and get at the honey horizontally within the hive. They were near the top of the honey super in last year's hives.

This year I added open screened bottom boards, a slat board, and an upper entrance with some more ventilation. This has taken care of my moisture problem!

However, I just opened the two hives. Both hives have plenty of honey around the two deeps brood chambers and a full medium of honey on top. The bees have moved up to the very top of the hive, through the honey in an almost chimney-like fashion, and have not moved out to get at the rest of the honey in either the outer brood chambers or the super. One hive is now dead-out, with nearly a full super of honey left. The other has a small cluster right at the top center of the honey super. Since they are at the top, I added newspaper and sugar today.

My question is - is this normal behavior, and if so, should I stack more supers on for the kind of winters I'm having up here? Or should I expect the bees to move throughout the hive to use all the honey in there?

Any other suggestions welcome. I'd just like to get through a winter with some girls for spring and stop buying packages every year...

Thanks.
 

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You've made great progress, solving the ventilation problems you were having.
Yea, that is common problem with bees, they move up through stores but won't move sideways so well, especially over colder climate areas.
It sounds like you've always had enough stores on the hives.
I find having all the same sized boxes for both brood and honey is good for being able to move frames around. Such as now, you might have taken your two bottom brood boxes and placed all the frames of honey into one box, and put that box on top of the current super where the brood is. That would give them honey above to move into instead of having to feed sugar. But what you've done is OK too. Let's just hope now the cluster is large enough to make it through into spring.
 

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Coming from Presque Isle, I understand County weather. You're on the right track. Bangor is cold but not as humid as other areas. My experience has been that larger colonies do a better job reducing the small, chimney like run to the top. They spread out more, make more heat and, of course, consume more honey. I would build them up good, leave lots of stores on top and keep them warm and dry. Bangor can be breezy at times so a good wind break won't hurt either.
 

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This has taken care of my moisture problem!

However, I just opened the two hives. Both hives have plenty of honey around the two deeps brood chambers and a full medium of honey on top.

I added newspaper and sugar today.

Any other suggestions welcome. I'd just like to get through a winter with some girls for spring and stop buying packages every year...

Thanks.
So the problem isn't the moisture. It's not lack of honey either...they have plenty of stores left. I'm going to have to say it's the bees.

Two possibilities.

The packaged bees with Italian queens weren't suitable for your Maine climate. Don't feel bad. Most everyone else up north here is finding out the same thing.

Something happened to the colonies last Summer or Fall. They swarmed or superceded and went into winter with a small cluster or a cluster of predominantly old bees.

I would suggest restocking your hives with more acclimatized stocks. Many beekeepers are complaining about the wintering ability of packaged bees. If you have to buy packages, requeen them with northern raised queens in mid-summer, and manage so they don't swarm on the Fall flow.

Do you participate in the Maine bee clubs? Lots of good information there.

Also, there are beekeepers who are selling local nucs...although most are probably sold out.
Mike
 

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I agree with Michael. You might want to look at Carnis for your area. I know they do much better in the winter then Italians...at least in my area. (Colorado mountains at 8200 ft) One thing you didn't mention is your mite count. A high mite count going into winter will take out your bees during the winter. If you haven't addressed this consider a good spring treatment for any hives that live, treat any new hives you get when you get them and then add a fall treatment just before the bees shut down.

Good luck.
 

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I was doing mite drop counts last September, and was at something like 20 per day. Not that big of a deal I thought. I decided to treat with a formic acid pad. The first day's mite count was well over a THOUSAND!! I couldn't believe it. I bet that hive dropped 2 to 3 thousand mites in total. I think it would have been a goner over the winter.

So far, it's still alive. It's going through 1/2 lb of stores per day.

Ken
 

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hello, sorry your having a bad time.....I agree change the breed of your stock if you still have bees in spring i would order new queens for your climate.I have russian/carnolian which they call "yugo"..I'm at 6000' colorado like alpha6and micheal said itallains are for warmer weather i found that out as well....I have no more itall hives.There is another beekeeper that moved in a 2 miles from me..just found that out just before winter she has all three banded itall....i don't think they will make it...the problem with this area is when maple blooms brood rearing booms then 2 to 2 1/2 week of dearth itall never stop brood rearing so they starve and die.:popcorn:
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I did treat last year for mites but I think I got the Apigard on too late/too cool. I hadn't thought about changing stock, however.

We don't have what I consider to be bad winters most of the time up here, and my hives are protected from a lot of weather and wind where they sit along a line of cedars facing southwest in a cedar grove on my property, but it really bugged me that I kept reading about how "light" hives had to be fed and my hives were brimming with honey and yet I keep losing them over-winter - even the really good hive over the last two years which is just hanging on now. I figured it was me! Well, maybe not!

Now that I've conquered the moisture issue, I think I'll try changing stock. Trouble is almost everyone up here sells Italians. I'll look around a bit.

Thanks again.
 

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I think you'll notice improved over-wintering success if you buy northern bred queens from Michael or another local with proven stock. There seems to be some real concern lately with package bees surviving the winters up north.

A friend of mine here in OH has about 100 colonies and he is very frustrated with what's been happening. He just checked 8 colonies he keeps in his back yard and only 2 are alive, 6 dead outs. All have plenty of stores remaining, but the common factor in the dead outs is that they were all Italian packages from last spring. The 2 survivors are Carniolans which he's had for a couple of years and are descended from queens he purchased from top notch breeders.

I'm not sure what this means, or why ... just wanted to throw it out there for you. If you have to purchase packages from the south this spring to get things started again, you may want to consider investing in summer replacement queens from a reputable northern breeder.

Best of luck moving forward.
 

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There seems to be some real concern lately with package bees surviving the winters up north.


I'm not sure what this means, or why ...
Trying not to be a southern breeder basher. It really isn't fair. But, it's true. The packages out of Georgia just don't winter here. Heck, lots don't make the summer. Pretty sad and discouraging.

I think of it like this. What are the packaged bee folks selecting for, anyway? Growing packaged bees. They're very good at it, and their stocks are wonderful bees...for growing packages.

Now I assume if you bought a hundred packages, and some made the winter nicely, that you could improve the stock by selecting from the best of those. Over time, you could have Italians that would be productive and winter here in the north. Look at David Eyre (Beeworks) in Wasilla, Ontario. That's what he did. He has winter hardy Italians.

But why bother. Carniolans are perfectly suited for northern climates. Why not start with acceptable stock and select from them.

With good bees you'll look at winter in a different light. Winter is actually your friend. She's the "Great Selector." Selector of good hardy stock. Punky bees fall by the wayside, and cream rises to the top.

It really does.
Mike
 

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In addition to the excellent advice you've gotten from Michael Palmer, I'd suggest you link up with some other Maine beeks. They'd be a great help, as they're experiencing the same climate you are. Good luck!
Steven
 

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One other factor to consider, age of bees and when they shut down in the fall?

If you go into Winter with a large population of leftover summer foragers that are on their last legs you're going into winter with a handicap.

If you have a sizeable population of young bees going into winter they will live longer and also a larger population (within reason) will have less trouble moving around so they won't get stuck in the cold within inches of stores and starve....this way they can move to where they WANT to instead of being forced into Stovepipe mode and end up dead up against the inner cover.

You can stimulate late fall brood rearing with feeding if there is room for her majesty to lay.

I was surprised to see bees still pulling in pollen in Central NH at the end of Oct....
 

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I'll second trying Erin for locally bred queens. (Her website says she's sold out of nucs for 2010.) I bought a nuc from her last year and it has been strong all winter and I can see the girls flying as I type this. I have three more nucs on order from her for this spring.

I don't know the breed of queen from the nuc, maybe a mutt, but she's proven herself over the past year. I'm going to try my hand at raising up some queens from this hive this summer to use in some July splits for overwintering.

Wayne
 

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We don't have what I consider to be bad winters ..
Compared to what? We are in Maine. My mentor started me on Minnisota Hygenics, and then seem to winter very well. I also caught a small swarm at the end of August and put the feed right to em', they are doing great and have doubled the amount of bees in the last 3 weeks.

I have never had packaged It's so I don't know how they do, but I would think starting with them would be fine as they are available early, just requeen before they start preparing for winter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I've started out on packages as that's how one of the master beekeepers up here in Maine does with his classes. Doesn't mean it's good or bad - just the way he does it. I haven't tried any nucs yet.

BTW, I do belong to the Penquis Beekeepers Association - and run the web site - www.PenquisBeeks.org - we meet in Dexter, Maine every month. The group has also bought packaged bees the last two years from the same beekeeper I got mine from, and yes, they are Georgia Italians.

I was looking at the various types of bees available, and while they list "good over-wintering qualities", you have to wonder how a Texas-bred bee would overwinter in Maine... so yeah, I'm looking into the local scene to see what I can find to re-queen some Italian packages I'll receive in April.

So my next question - when is a good time to re-queen here in Maine? I'll get a couple more packages in mid-April. I'm thinking mid-May to June, or should I re-queen sooner or later, or wait for certain weather or flows? The hives are ready for them - pretty well drawn out and in one case even has honey and stores in it from the dead-out this winter, so they should get started pretty quickly. Trouble is, I do have to order queens ahead...
 

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Yes, Brac, it's Gordon... maybe I should change my nick...

I talked to a few local breeders here and they will have queens ready in the June timeframe, so I guess that's what I'll do - get my packages going and re-queen with northern stock in June.

Thanks to everyone for your input.
 

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Mites were mentioned but not the type. It seems that Verroa mites was inferred. But it is my understanding that the tracheal mites are the villians in the winter. So mite drops will not detect tracheal mite infestations.

JMHO
 
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