Vermont Beekeepers Association


Chilled Brood?

Ted Albers writes:

Opened hive on 11/16/13 after a freeze. Could this be 'cold brood?' Note how many are head-down (to generate heat?) Not sure strength of hive before the freeze; plenty of honey but perhaps too far from center of hive. About 3 frames looked like this (clustered near one another.) Many fewer dead bees found than a full/robust hive should have so perhaps hive was already in decline. (Shelburne.) Thanks!


Mike Palmer Replies:

Yes, I would say the colony has been in decline for some time. While there are a number of bees head-first in open cells, indicating starvation, I don't believe the colony starved. I see colonies like this every year when I pick up winter losses. Diagnosis is confirmed by looking at the remaining cells of capped brood. In the lower left corner of your photograph, I see a worker that died while attempting to emerge from her cell. Do you see it? Open the cell with a pocket knife or the corner of your hive tool. Does she have fully formed wings? Does she have a normal sized abdomen, or is it flat and stunted?

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Does the queen lay much at this time of year?

Robin Rattazzi writes: I have a hive I just went into because it needed to be leveled. So as I took it down to the bottom box I looked alittle for signs of the queen and saw none. I didn't look at every frame but a bunch towards the center in each. I have two deps and one supper for them. Plenty of honey and very heavy. Does the queen lay much at this time of year?


Many queens have shut down by this time of the year. The nectar flow is over, and about all that is left is a bit more Aster pollen. If there's a good population, I wouldn't worry about it. There's not much you can do this time of the year to help a queenless colony, but chances are everything is fine.




That's a Wrap

Marty Allen writes: Do you recommend wrapping hives for winter?

Yes, I recommend wrapping hives for winter. The black paper absorbs heat from the sun on cold winter days and adds a bit of protection in windy apiaries. I use a single layer of 15 pound felt (tarpaper) with insulation of some type above the inner cover. A piece of 2" rigid foam cut to the size of the inner cover works well, and can be re-used year after year. An empty super with dry leaves or planer shavings can also be used. The felt paper should be wrapped around the hive and be tucked under the outer cover. Don't wrap the hive with the paper folded over the inner cover like a package. That holds the moisture in and causes problems.

The worst thing for our bees during the long winter confinement is moisture. With an insulated inner cover, and an upper entrance, excess moisture leaves the hive as vapor and doesn't condense within the hive. Leave your bottom entrance wide open, protected from mouse intrusion with a piece of 1/2" hardware cloth. Cut a strip 4" wide by the width of the bottom entrance. Fold into a wedge lengthwise and shove into the entrance. For a top entrance, use the notch on the front rim of the inner cover. Place the notch down, and toward the front of the hive.

For a colony to winter properly, there must be a large population of young bees that are healthy and unaffected by varroa mites and viruses. They need 70-80 pounds of well ripened feed. While wrapping a hive won't save a weak colony, it will help good colonies make it to spring with a healthy cluster of bees.


Two Mysteries

Catherine Hughes writes:

It's 57 degrees, grey, 5 pm and quite a few bees are clustered all along the entrance, one clump moving very deliberately around a small mass. (containing what I do know know). They were still there at 7pm when they should be in the hive. I am rather worried. Is this how they expel drones? Seems quite odd. Also, I have 2 honey suppers that I put an escape board under a week ago and bees were still in there 2 days ago and tonight as well. (I peeked). It worked great before. Two mysteries.

Well, I couldn't say what exactly is within the small mass, but you could find out if you would poke it apart with your finger...err...hive tool. Probably nothing. As far as the bearding is concerned, probably quite normal for a strong colony just after the 90 degree day we had two days ago. Today we were feeding mating nuclei, and some had monster beards at 50 degrees and drizzle.

If the escape board doesn't clear the supers in a couple day, I would suspect one of two things. The escape routes are plugged with debris or dead bees, or there is brood in the supers.

- Mike


Too Many Queens?

William Lesko writes:

On a routine check of a hive with two brood boxes and no evidence of preswarm activity a queen was spotted on frame two. With good brood pattern and on frame three another queen. What would you do?

You have a colony that has superceded their queen, and both mother and daughter remain in the hive. Although we are told that each of our honeybee colonies has only one queen, colonies with multiple queens isn't a rare event.

In 2004 I requeened 50 colonies by making a nucleus colony from each top brood box, and installing a caged queen. Three weeks later, the old queen was removed and the nuc was united with the now queenless parent colony. Of those 50 colonies, 17, or 30% had multiple queens. Think of it. 30%. What does that mean when re-queen a honeybee colony? When removing the old queen in preparation for re-queening, don't stop searching once you've found the first queen.

So now that you have a multiple queen colony what should you do? Nothing. The bees will sort things out.

- Mike


Winter Quiet

Marilyn Post writes:

This morning I did not hear the bees in the hive. It is too cold to open the hive- does this mean my bees are dead? This is my first hive and I have been hearing them all winter and seeing the results of hive cleaning activity. What can I do?

You can't always hear the bees when it's cold, but the fact that you've heard them all winter, and now they are silent may indicate they didn't make it.

Not really sure what you can do at this point. Winter is still upon us. What is, is and what will be, will be.We're going to have some days in the 30s next week, and you should be able to lift up the inner cover and peek in. Then you'll know. If they are still alive, and you don't see any honey stores, or the cluster isn't in contact with honey, you can add a slab of fondant directly on top of the cluster.

- Mike


Super Order

Bob Stahl writes:

My bees came through winter with 2 deeps and a medium honey super on top. In the spring I reversed and now all is well - but my honey super is sort of being wasted on the bottom of the hive. I'd love to pull it out & put it back to use as a honey super and am wondering what your thought are on that. I know I'd have to be sure the queen isn't in the honey super and that there might be brood in it - that will eventually hatch out. I just don't want to buy more honey supers when I have some - just sitting on the bottom of the hive. Thanks Mike!

I would leave the super right where it is, and add new supers for the honey crop.

My standard brood nest configuration is two deeps and a medium super. This allows for ample brood rearing space for the queen, and food storage space for winter stores. It doesn't really matter where in the stack the super is located...bottom, middle, or top. As with your super, when located on top the first year, it cam be reversed to the bottom in early May. This reversal prompts the bees to remove any left over, crystallized honey. Any brood will emerge as the brood rearing cluster moves up in the hive. The following May, the hive is reversed again, and the super is re-located on top.

- Mike


Reaction Time

Kim Greenwood writes:

Does the "mild reaction" to a bee sting - swelling of arm, mild pain and itching - diminish as the season goes on? Do reactions lessen as you spend more time with bees and are stung more often? What about developing a honeybee venom allergy over time, is that possible?

Yes, the swelling and itching will diminish over the season, if you are stung regularly. How often does regularly mean? I guess everyone is different, but my help start the season swelling and itching from bee stings, and in a few weeks they see a big difference in their reaction. Of course, once they brave it without gloves, they get some amount of stings every day. I do believe it is possible to develop an allergy to honey bee venom, over time. That said, I also believe that most who develop allergies do so because they aren't stung often enough. They handle bees, get stung on their gloves and suits, and are thereby exposed to venom without being stung. In such a scenario, the body develops the wrong type of antibodies, and the person has an event when they are stung. My daughter is a good example, as are some family members of the commercial beekeepers in our association. She was only stung a couple times before her allergy developed, but she rode in my bee truck and sat on my lap from the time she was born. My truck and bee clothes were contaminated with bee venom and honey bee proteins. When she did get stung one evening, by a bee who hitchhiked home with me in my clothes, she had an allergic reaction. Thankfully, we're only five miles from the hospital, and she was administered epinephrine in time. When we talked to her allergist, he told me something that will high-lite what I am saying. In the general public, allergy to honey bee venom runs about 1 in 100-200 people. In commercial beekeeping families, that number rises dramatically to 1 in 10.

- Mike