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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been checking my three hives with a FLIR attachment every couple of weeks. Two of them seem fine, and are just getting into the uppermost super. The third seems to be stuck in place. The cluster is off to one side and only about halfway up. They haven't moved up at all in a month. Also, when I clear out dead bees from the entrance, this hive has 3x the amount of dead bees as the other two. I'm thinking that something is preventing them from moving up. Maybe there is a mass of burr comb, or an area of empty cells that they will not cross. What should I do? It's been very cold here so I haven't done anything yet, but it looks like the temperature will be 45F on Sunday. I hate to do anything invasive but seems like it might be worth a look. Anyone been through this?
 

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I wouldn't do anything. I have only been at this for a few years, but have observed a lot of different behaviors between the hives during winter and they all came through fine. I have had some hives use the upper entrances, some don't, some use both. I have 2 hives now and one has been in the upper deep a long time and are eating sugar blocks and the other is still down below and not toughing the sugar. Both hives were about the same size and put to bed with the same amount of resources. One hive has consistently clustered to one side, others up the middle. Once the weather breaks and you get a nice warm day, take a peek, but doubt anything is blocking them from moving up. J
 

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Andrea,

How many boxes are overhead? If only one then you can see whether they have something blocking them, or empty combs overhead head. if you have two, just take off the upper box and look down into the one over the cluster with a flashlight.

If you think there is something wrong with combs over the cluster, you can swap them out for the ones on the other side. Partially cover the box over the cluster and work the other sides' combs free and out. Then, free the ones over the bees and slot in the good ones.

It maybe that the cluster is just so small that they haven't the wherewithall to move around much and also aren't consuming a lot of stores, either. I think doing that much on a warm windless 45 F day would be OK. If you can't see anything wrong (no comb blockages and the frames above them are filled with honey), then I would leave them undisturbed. Some will inevitably fly out and perish, and they probably need every bee they have to see them through. I wouldn't go poking down into their cluster to see what's what, because besides making sure they have food they can reach overhead, there's little you could do anyway.

The main risk is that they only marginal as far as keeping themselves and the new brood warm. I would consider adding foam insulation sheets all around the hive. I use a 2" slab plus a 1" layer, so R-15 compared to less than R-1 with a pine box. You probably can't use the FLIR through the foam so attach them with something you can easily take off and put back on again. It's a three-handed job, so having a helper makes it easier. I have used bungee cords, rope, bungee cords AND rope, ratchet straps and black electrical tape. My fave (though time consuming to create, but there after a snap to use) is a kind of zig-zag rope corset that goes around three sides and on to the front with three or four loops, through which I run a bungee cord tightner. But anything works.

My own hives are shoved together with two, 1" thick panels between them, in groups of five 10-frame stacks. This allows me to use uncut eight foot pieces along the backs and front, and full 24" width pieces on the ends. I hold the long pieces back and front to the hives with leaned-in wood shipping pallets, which allows me to avoid all the tying-on hassles altogether. Here's a pic: nancy's pics 053.jpg

You'll note that there is also a 2" slab running along all the tops, plus there is 1.5 " inside each telecover, even though I am also using quilt boxes. Attic insulation is probably even more important than sidewall insulation, though with a small cluster stuck n one side, side walls is pretty helpful.

I am in northern NY, Z5a-4b, so perhaps a bit colder than you in MI, unless you are on the UP, and even then you might be have moderated winter temps because of the lake.

I envy that FLIR gadget. I don't use a cell phone so I'd need a whole FLIR device, but I often wish I had one - even at the cost of hauling the front insulation off to use it.

Nancy
 

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Interesting thermal photo!

Agree with everything said above. Another thing or couple of things is the hive could be infected with nosema cerana, or varroa mites. Both those things can cause a cluster to not move and eventually die seemingly of starvation, even though there is honey pretty close.

I am with Enjambres suggestion, if you can get a 45 degree day, have a look and ensure there is honey in contact with the top of the cluster where the bees can get it, move some honey if need be.

Another thing I've seen with small struggling clusters in the cold, you can put capped honey next to them and they are so weak they don't uncap it. What I do in these cases is scrape the caps off some comb and put that uncapped honey in direct physical contact with the cluster. That will get a small cluster motivated and start using the rest of the honey.
 

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Two years ago when doing our first round of patties we approached one colony, lifted the lid and saw no sign of life, thought it was dead, so I split the boxes preparing to haul them off for storage. Bees started to pour out of the bottom box, turns out there was a small cluster still in the bottom box with a box chock full of honey still above them. By the time May rolled around during our spring flow, that was one of our stronger colonies. I used that queen to raise some daughters that summer. She wintered her second winter in a 5 frame nuc, by February they had less than 2 frames of bees, by May the box was overflowing with bees again. I grafted another round from her last summer before she was superceeded.

We did our first round of patties this last weekend. Same drill, pop the top and look into the top box, then split the boxes if and only if we dont see a cluster in the top box and no visible signs of life. We found multiple colonies with a cluster in the bottom box and a full box of honey still above.

Personally, my own opinion is, if a colony is still in the bottom box when we do first round of patties in mid to late February, this is not a bad thing, it's a great trait. Once weather starts to warm up, they start moving up into that second box and turn all that honey into brood. I'd be quite happy if all of our colonies wintered this way consistently.
 

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Two years ago when doing our first round of patties we approached one colony, lifted the lid and saw no sign of life, thought it was dead, so I split the boxes preparing to haul them off for storage. Bees started to pour out of the bottom box, turns out there was a small cluster still in the bottom box with a box chock full of honey still above them. By the time May rolled around during our spring flow, that was one of our stronger colonies. I used that queen to raise some daughters that summer. She wintered her second winter in a 5 frame nuc, by February they had less than 2 frames of bees, by May the box was overflowing with bees again. I grafted another round from her last summer before she was superceeded.

We did our first round of patties this last weekend. Same drill, pop the top and look into the top box, then split the boxes if and only if we dont see a cluster in the top box and no visible signs of life. We found multiple colonies with a cluster in the bottom box and a full box of honey still above.

Personally, my own opinion is, if a colony is still in the bottom box when we do first round of patties in mid to late February, this is not a bad thing, it's a great trait. Once weather starts to warm up, they start moving up into that second box and turn all that honey into brood. I'd be quite happy if all of our colonies wintered this way consistently.
:thumbsup:
Over the past ~3 weeks I've checked in on most of the hives that are under my care. Colonies that are headed by queens raised from overwintered colonies are mostly not in the top box with 5.5-6 frame clusters. In one yard where most colonies are from packages, the clusters are 8+ frames in the top box and on their 2nd round of candy boards.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for your input, everyone!

Andrea,

How many boxes are overhead? If only one then you can see whether they have something blocking them, or empty combs overhead head. if you have two, just take off the upper box and look down into the one over the cluster with a flashlight.

If you think there is something wrong with combs over the cluster, you can swap them out for the ones on the other side. Partially cover the box over the cluster and work the other sides' combs free and out. Then, free the ones over the bees and slot in the good ones.

It maybe that the cluster is just so small that they haven't the wherewithall to move around much and also aren't consuming a lot of stores, either. I think doing that much on a warm windless 45 F day would be OK. If you can't see anything wrong (no comb blockages and the frames above them are filled with honey), then I would leave them undisturbed. Some will inevitably fly out and perish, and they probably need every bee they have to see them through. I wouldn't go poking down into their cluster to see what's what, because besides making sure they have food they can reach overhead, there's little you could do anyway.

The main risk is that they only marginal as far as keeping themselves and the new brood warm. I would consider adding foam insulation sheets all around the hive. I use a 2" slab plus a 1" layer, so R-15 compared to less than R-1 with a pine box. You probably can't use the FLIR through the foam so attach them with something you can easily take off and put back on again. It's a three-handed job, so having a helper makes it easier. I have used bungee cords, rope, bungee cords AND rope, ratchet straps and black electrical tape. My fave (though time consuming to create, but there after a snap to use) is a kind of zig-zag rope corset that goes around three sides and on to the front with three or four loops, through which I run a bungee cord tightner. But anything works.

My own hives are shoved together with two, 1" thick panels between them, in groups of five 10-frame stacks. This allows me to use uncut eight foot pieces along the backs and front, and full 24" width pieces on the ends. I hold the long pieces back and front to the hives with leaned-in wood shipping pallets, which allows me to avoid all the tying-on hassles altogether. Here's a pic: View attachment 46183

You'll note that there is also a 2" slab running along all the tops, plus there is 1.5 " inside each telecover, even though I am also using quilt boxes. Attic insulation is probably even more important than sidewall insulation, though with a small cluster stuck n one side, side walls is pretty helpful.

I am in northern NY, Z5a-4b, so perhaps a bit colder than you in MI, unless you are on the UP, and even then you might be have moderated winter temps because of the lake.

I envy that FLIR gadget. I don't use a cell phone so I'd need a whole FLIR device, but I often wish I had one - even at the cost of hauling the front insulation off to use it.

Nancy
Thank you for the great advice, Nancy!

The FLIR attachment is an extravagance, but it does come in very handy. “Santa” brought it to me for Christmas this year. :)

I’m in SE Michigan, zone 5b. The hive stack is six 8-frame mediums and it looks like there are still at least two above the cluster. This was a very large, robust hive going into the winter, and so I’m surprised to see so many dead. Mite counts were never above 1-3 per 1/2 cup sugar roll, and I did MAQS treatments on all hives in August, following up with three rounds of OAV in late September/early October.

Before doing anything, I plan on taking pictures from all sides to try and get a better idea of exactly where the cluster is centered. I don’t want to pull apart two supers only to find that they are centered in between them. I will take your advice and let you know how it goes.

I actually did have 1.5” of polystyrene foam sheet insulation on the sides during our polar vortex here. I ran gorilla tape around the whole thing to keep the foam panels in place. However, I took it all off last weekend when things warmed up a bit so that I could better monitor things with the FLIR. I still have all hives wrapped with tar paper, and quilt boxes on top. After taking a peek this weekend, I will bungee the foam back on.

I think this year I will start using some kind of stand instead of cinder blocks, so that I can push them together in the winter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Mission aborted as my 45F calm day ended up being 35F and windy. I secured all of the foam sheet insulation back on with ratchet straps and will hope for the best.
 

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Oldtimer “Agree with everything said above. Another thing or couple of things is the hive could be infected with nosema cerana, or varroa mites. Both those things can cause a cluster to not move and eventually die seemingly of starvation, even though there is honey pretty close.”

I dont think n.cerana affects the winter cluster like that, it affects Spring/Summer build up (which doesn’t really happen). The n. cerana hive I have made it through winter good but later on lacked stores and bees. Hopefully Im remembering this correctly and it’s not “old age” setting in! Deb
 

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i had this happen to one hive last year when spring finally rolled around i discovered that i had not removed the darn queen excluder on that particular hive. Huge mistake that cost me the colony.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
i had this happen to one hive last year when spring finally rolled around i discovered that i had not removed the darn queen excluder on that particular hive. Huge mistake that cost me the colony.
Yikes! That is a bummer.
 
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