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Question of the Month

We are often asked by new potential beekeepers if they should start with one or two hives. We recommend that beekeepers start with at least two hives if possible. This is not a ploy to try to have you spend more money, but to give you the opportunity to compare and contrast each hive. Beekeepers with more than one hive can distinguish if a hive is weak or lacks brood compared to their other hive(s). This is vital information in these final weeks of warmer weather. If you did not have the other hive to relate it to, how would you know it was weak? Would you just assume the queen had slowed her laying in preparation for winter?

What qualifies as a weak hive?

  • The number of adult bees: We are not asking you to count each individual bee. Count the space between the frames that include bees. Beekeepers will want to see 10 or more frames of bees (don’t count the spaces that are half full). Of course a good portion of the bees will be out foraging throughout the day so it is best to try and get a count prior or after the field force has returned.
  • Amount of brood and food stores: You will still find brood in different stages throughout the brood chamber. Beekeepers want to see 3 or 4 frames of a good brood pattern and plenty of food stores to support the hive. We always suggest 50 to 60 pounds of honey per hive to survive through winter (depending on how mild the winter is).
So what should you do now that you know your hive is weak?

Once a colony becomes weak it can become overrun with disease and pests. These issues need to be addressed before any action can be taken in order to help your colony survive winter. By this time the colony does not have the population to fend off Small hive beetles or Wax Moths hiding in nooks and crannies. Reduce the size of the hive to something more manageable for your bees and apply traps to thwart off hive beetles. This will in turn help the current population maintain hive temperatures.

Weaker colonies do not have the number of bees to address the issue of disease in the hive. These additional bees would clean out cells, dispose of infected larvae and deliver nutrition to the younger bees. Therefore, you need to provide feed with a nutritional feed supplement to increase your colonies health and entice brood rearing. Some diseases need to run their course through the current population and hopefully the newborns will not show the same symptoms. If disease is still evident in the newer population you may need to recheck your hive’s mite count. Other diseases are more devastating and require the hive be torched (literally burn the hive). For more information on pests and diseases please visit our Pests and Disease page.

You are on the correct path to strengthening the colony. Continue feeding the colony a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water (mix in a feed supplement to help increase the colonies health) and provide a pollen substitute. Plants are not currently producing pollen and pollen is the main ingredient used to feed young larvae and the queen. Feeding the colony will stimulate the queen to increase her laying and will grow the colonies strength. Hive top or division board feeders work better when feeding in the fall. The warmth inside the hive may keep them from crystalizing and robbing bees will not be able to reach them easily. Weaker colonies are prone to experience robbing from stronger colonies and entrance feeders are easy access for robbing bees. If you must use an entrance feeder, reduce the entrance to the far edge away from feeder.

If your colony does not seem to be improving in strength you can combine it with a strong colony to help the bees survive through winter. Ensure that the weaker colony is not diseased or infested with pests. Otherwise, you may weaken the strong colony when combining. Remove the queen from the weaker colony (a very important step) and lay newspaper over the colony you wish to combine it with. Stack the weaker supers above the newspaper. The bees become acclimated with each other as they eat through the newspaper. There is no point in nursing a weak colony along in hopes that it will gain in strength. It will continue attracting pests and disease. Combining colonies in the fall can lead to strong splits in the spring.