Fall Management & Overwintering Colonies in Apimaye Bee Hives

Fall management and overwintering colonies are the most important tasks for the beekeepers. Any mistake will cause the loss of the colonies during winter. Beekeepers should inspect the colonies and prepare for winter after the honey harvest in late summer or early fall. Fall management time differs from state to state. It might be as early as August in northern states, or as late as October or November is southern states. Requirements for overwintering are also different in different climates but there are basic requirements for successful overwintering. These requirements are:

1. Presence of Queen

 The colonies must have a queen in the colony. If there is no queen and/or eggs, the colony is most likely queenless, or there might be a virgin queen in the hive. Check  all the combs one by one and look for a virgin queen. Check for the queen cells, if you see a queen cell without capping there might be a virgin queen. If you cannot find the queen you need to to:

  • Buy a queen and re-queen the colony. It might be difficult to buy a queen in the fall. If you have nucleus colonies you can unite the colony with the nucleus colony. You can use the uniting board or the newspaper method to unite the colonies.
    • If the weak queen-right colony is only 3-5 frames, adjust the uniting board round knobs to ventilation so bees can not pass through the holes but the odors can. Then place the uniting board in the Apimaye hive and place the combs of the queenless hives on the other side. Place the top feeder start feeding the hive. The odor of the both hives will diffuse through the uniting board. After 3-5 days remove the uniting board. The bees will be acclimatized and will not kill each other.
    • If the queenless hive has more than 6-7 frames of bees, remove the cover and feeder. Place a newspaper on top of the brood box that has the queen and brood. Place an empty super on top of the newspaper and make some cuts on the newspaper by using a hive tool. Then transfer the frames of bees from the queenless hive. Place the top feeder and feed the bees sugar syrup. Cuts on the newspaper will allow the odors pass through but the bees can not. The bees will chew the newspaper from the cuts and the colonies will be united without killing each other. Remove the newspaper 3-5 days after and check for the queen and the brood.  The success rate of uniting colonies on both methods is close to 100%.
  • If you have a weak queen-right colony you should unite the queen-right weak colony with the queen-less colony. However make sure that both colonies are healthy.  
  • If you cannot purchase a queen and if you do not have weak colonies, place a comb with young larvae and eggs from another colony. If the colony is queenless they will rear queens from the young larvae or eggs. However it takes about 15-16 days for the new queen to emerge and another 10-12 days for queen to mature and 3-4 days after mating to lay eggs. So the colony will be queen-less for about 1 month and it will be too late for queen to mate in temperate climates.   Therefore the queen may not take a mating flight and will lay unfertilized eggs.
  • If the bees do not rear queens on the newly introduced brood comb, there might be a virgin queen in the hive. In this case wait another 1-2 weeks and inspect the hive again. If you see eggs in the cells, the queen mated and stated laying eggs. You will see the queen on the brood combs.
  • If you do not see the queen but if you see multiple eggs in the cells means the colony is queen-less and some of the workers started laying eggs. It is difficult to introduce new queen in laying worker colonies. Laying worker colonies can not overwinter and they will die. So it is better to take the honey combs and place them in queen-right colonies.

2. Amount of Honey in the Hive

There should be enough honey in the hives. In colder climates there should be 10-15 frames of honey (80-100 lbs). Nucs need about 40-50 lbs of honey (8 deep frames of honey). Bees will not die from cold they will die from starvation. If there is honey in the hive near the winter cluster the bees will eat honey and they will survive. If they can not reach honey (if the cluster is small and honey is in the periphery) they will starve to death.

If there is not enough honey in the hive

  • Feed the colonies with heavy syrup (2 parts sugar mixed with 1 part water). You should start feeding the colonies after the honey harvest in August in the temperate climates. You can also place fondants or granulated table sugar in the top feeder to feed the bees in the winter. Feeding the colonies after the honey harvest in the fall will stimulate the queen to lay eggs. Fall brood is very important for the survival of the colonies. Fall bees are different physiologically than the summer bees. They have more glycogen and fat bodies than the summer bees and can live longer than the summer bees. Therefore it is important to feed the colonies in the fall to stimulate the queens to lay eggs.
  • If you have excess amount of honey in the storage and/or in some hives you can transfer the honey combs to the colonies that do not have enough honey.

3. Healthy Colonies

 You should inspect the colonies for varroa and honey bee diseases:

  • Treat the colonies for varroa mite. Start feeding and treating the colonies right after honey harvest in August. Check the infestation level in September, if it is still above 2-3% treat the colonies again in September or October.
  • Check for the signs of AFB, EFB and nosema and treat the colonies if you have any of the disease symptoms.

4. Amount of Bees (Strength of the Colonies)

Weak colonies can not survive in the temperate climates. If the colonies are weak they can not reach the food stores on the periphery and will die. There should be at least 8-10 frames of bees in the hive. If not you can unite the colonies or place them in nucs. Smaller colonies will survive better in the nucs than full size hives.

5. Location

Location, location, location. Place the hives so there is not much wind. If there is strong wind, windbreaks should be provided or hives should be moved to better places. It is better to place the hives on a stand. Do not place the hives on down sides since the cold air accumulates in the down sides. Small hills will be better since the cold air slides down. If there is strong wind, placing hay pallets as wind breaks or wrapping the hives with roofing paper will be helpful

6. Ventilation

There should be enough ventilation in the hive. When bees consume honey they generate water. This excessive water should be eliminated from the hive. If it freezes or drips on the bees it will kill the bees. Moreover molds will grow in the hive. Apimaye hives have plenty of ventilation to prevent condensation of the water.

  • Leave the entrance reduces all the way open. Bees may propolize and reduce the entrances. It is OK. You can remove the propolis in the spring.
  • Leave the ventilation hole open so worker bees can fly in and out if the lower entrance is blocked by snow. It is better to switch the super so the ventilation hole is on the other side of the entrance. It will increase the ventilation efficiency.
  • You can remove the bottom tray to increase the ventilation efficiency. Your Apimaye hive will become a screen bottom board hive. Excess moisture will be eliminated through the screen bottom board.

7. DND (Do Not Disturb)

Do not open the hive and do not disturb the bees during the winter months. You should inspect the hives in the spring when bees start flying or the outside temperature reaches 10 0C in February or March

8. Read More :)

For more information please read the articles

https://pollinator.cals.cornell.edu/sites/pollinator.cals.cornell.edu/files/shared/documents/Wintering%20Bees%20in%20Cold%20Climates.compressed.pdf

http://beesource.com/resources/usda/overwintering-of-honey-bee-colonies/

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1006

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