Help overwintering in NW PA


Exploring the pasture
Sep 27, 2020
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I got Hive 1 in mid-June, as a 5-frame Nucleus. A little late, but for $75, I'll happily take it. Fed a quart of 1:1 every day right up until mid-August, when I stopped because I started seeing a few wasps buzzing around (yellow jackets killed my last attempt at beekeeping), and the nectar flow was amazing, anyway.

As of last inspection, Wednesday before last, that colony had filled both deeps completely, the top with honey, and a few of the lower cells on that deep contained grubs. They were starting to try and build comb in their roof; I added a super even though the golden rod is starting to die off (we've had two hard frosts, thus far, and a few little ones). I'll check on them tomorrow, when I give them their second dose of Thymol. I haven't seen any eggs, but I didn't inspect the bottom deep; they were a little antsy, and I had no desire to go moving that much around when I'm pretty sure I can't get a queen this late in the year anyway.

Am I making a mistake by not checking for eggs?
Is there any reason I should not have put that super on?

Hive 2 was purchased early July, same seller, same price, same treatment by me. They were off to a louder start, had more bees, and were a little angrier, but the population seems like it might have died back to less than that of Hive 1. As of Wednesday, they still hadn't filled the last three frames of their second deep with honey, and I saw no eggs or grubs in the top deep. Again I didn't inspect the bottom deep. They were not as touchy as Hive 1, which worries me. I moved one of the empties into the middle of the hive body, to suppress some burr comb, and in hopes that they start filling it. Aug 12th, (I think? I should keep records), I had a mite count of 2, doing an alcohol wash with half a cup of bees. I did see eggs then. There were no abnormal brood, and they've been keeping the front of their hive tidy, in warm weather.

If Hive 1 puts honey in that super, should I give it to 2?
Should I be worried about 2's growth?

Our winters don't usually hit the -20s for more than a few nights out of the year. Snow starts about mid-November, and continues well into early March. We very rarely have gotten more than two feet over the past five years. Right now, a warm day is mid-sixties, and a cold one is upper 40s. It's damp, but less so than normal (and certainly less so than last year).

To overwinter the hives, we'll be putting the hives on a pallet and sticking them in an open shed facing south-east. We plan on putting up a windbreak in front of them as well. They do have inner covers, and the reducer bars'll be on. Anything else I should do? We have plenty of hay, but I'd rather not insulate with that, as that sounds to me like a mouse hotel. Should I put some sort of insulation in the inner cover?

Thank you in advance for advice.


Loving the herd life
Aug 26, 2020
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Sorry you didn't get a reply on this.

There are many points of view on this...

Here are some of the ideas I'd heard looking at bee videos;

Some people with their beekeeping approaches will tell you yes to put some of hive 1's honey into hive 2. That is one type of beekeeper philosophy. These types of beeks think you should save everything and keep all the hives alive.

But another philosophy is that you should only do splits from the ones that are 'successful' because if you are propagating the unsuccessful bees then their posterity might be unsuccessful also. But by this philosophy they might argue that if they can't feed themselves that those kinds of bees shouldn't be kept on crutches their whole life, even if you got them by other means.

But some people will say, keep the unsuccessful and more desperate hives available because things could possibly change with a requeening with a strong queen in the spring etc. They might say that an unsuccessful hive could become successful with the right conditions.

In response you might think well, these guys are talking about different situations that don't apply to me. And that's true also. But what I'm saying is that peoples values systems will easily change their thinking on treatment, or not to treat.

And also its hard to say which is best because we don't know if those are your only hives, or if you have tons and tons of hives. And if these were the only hives you had then it would make more sense to try to save them.

Another point of view is that you could make a lot of candy fondant to put in the weaker hive. The candy fondant stuff is different from honey and sugar both. Its more like sugar mixed with vinegar. And many experienced beekeepers say this is better than just straight dry sugar, plus also better for them in winter, as they can put it in their bodies and system faster (resulting in less deaths). Bee candy fondant is supposed to be great for winters.

I can't say I'm an expert or that you should listen to me over others.

But you didn't get any help on this and that's a shame.

I liked the videos that talked about the candy fondant for bees. The first one I saw was a very old beekeeper who had been doing it for decades. He said it works great for survival.

I'm thinking you could try this. And you could do pollen patties. I would think if they don't have a lot of honey that you should also address protein.

And many people don't know you can make your own pollen patties, you don't have to buy them. I have to say this because when I go to Cal Ranch and Walmart and other places they want to charge people every cent they possibly can for beekeeping supplies. And the sheer overcharge is amazingly enormous and that bothers me that they rip people off. (Without protein the bees will be malnourished, which can result in failure of the hive.)

People say you can make your own pollen patties with soy meal and some other stuff together.

So I'd attack it all at once.

I agree with the idea of trying to save the weaker hive and not just letting it go. But I would try to avoid robbing a successful hive to do so. If possible I'd try to use these other ideas of fondant and your own pollen to avoid preventing the successful hive losing its opportunities for its own future growth. If you take from the good hives then you'll end up not propagating your best traits.

You can also move the hives close together to help the big hives warm the smaller ones during the winter. This is what the older beeks do. And they'll put the small nucs on top of the bigger hives for this reason all winter. But you may want to go into detail with a fine toothed comb how they do it to not miss anything that can mess you up, as missing something small can hurt you.

For insulating the inner covers a lot of people put down a bunch of moisture resistant cloth, not wrapped but just sort of piled up. You can find youtube videos on this, as its hard to explain. It looks like a lot of them are using burlap type stuff or hemp sack stuff.

You can also keep your hive bottom at least enough inches off the ground to be at a certain comparison height to what your average amount of snow on the ground is. (You can look at some Michael Palmer videos for this.)

If you've already had dearth and cold spells that can explain why there might not be eggs. Some hives will turn that off when there's no new resources coming in. So it depends. (Are you missing anything there?)(And its not a bad thing for them to slow down when there's dearth or other things, when its done for conservation.)

I wish I could find people selling nucs that cheap around here actually. That's a great price. (What state are you in?)

It sounds like you might be a bit new...but I don't want to be judgmental or be a jerk either. You may find the states with really cold winters have a lot of different stuff than the how the southern beekeepers do things and this is worth noting.

Additionally there is trouble potential this year as we're having more extreme weather, where it can look like perfect one day and then the next its like extreme cold. And its bouncing back and forth between very vast variance between hot and cool even within the same day. This means you want to do a lot of early preparations and try to account for this with protection but some flexibility also.

Hope that helps.