Beekeeping in Vermont...



Should I be Concerned?

Peter Hadeka writes:

Hi Mike, I have two hives, one wooden and one Bee Max Styrofoam. I opened quickly today and found live bees. They were located at the top of the hives, clustering in the oblong hole of the inner cover. Is this where they should be? I left styrofoam top feeders on, for insulation, thru the winter. I guess I am concerned that the bees may be out of food and have come to the very top. Should I be concerned or does this seem normal. Thanks, Peter

Peter, we're told by the experts that bees should be in a lower box clustering below honey, so they can move up onto stored during the late winter, early spring months. Moving up is easily done, as heat rises, and a vertical cavity has been our European bees' traditional home since the time they lived in hollow trees.

I'm seeing the same thing as you this winter. Most of my colonies are in the top box, with cluster sizes from cantaloupe to basketball. Does this concern me? Not really. I'm more interested in the cluster size and whether or not the bees are in contact with honey. Small clusters can become trapped on one side of the broodnest, either because there is brood present which the bees won't leave, or the temperature is too low for them to move horizontally onto new honey stores.

I suggest you go back to your hives and look below the inner cover. Don't worry about the temperature. You won't hurt the bees by opening the hive on a 30 degree day. Disturbing them at this point is better than having them starve, and the process takes less than a half a minute. Lift the inner cover slowly, and observe the cluster and it's position. The bees should be in contact with honey. Is there capped honey surrounding the cluster? That's good and if so, close the hive and check again in a couple weeks.

If you can't see any honey, or if the stores seem to be located toward the other side of the hive and you only see empty combs in contact with the cluster, you might have to feed. I jab my hive tool into a few places in the seam of bees in from the edge of the cluster. Does it come up with honey on it, or does it come up dry?

If dry, the bees need feed now. Until the bees are able to fly regularly, you should feed fondant placed directly on the cluster. Wrap the fondant in waxed paper, score the paper and place exposed fondant on top of cluster. Check again in a couple weeks, and replace as needed.

Feeding syrup in cold weather when the bees are clustered and can't fly is a mistake. It causes the bees to be more active, and increases the need for cleansing flights when it's too cold out for flight. Once the bees can fly regularly, 2:1 syrup can be substituted for the fondant, or the cluster can be centered in the hive and combs of honey can be moved into contact with the bees.

good luck

- Mike Palmer keeps bees at French Hill Apiaries in St. Albans. We are grateful that he has agreed to answer questions on beekeeping in Vermont, his workload permitting. VBA Members: Ask Mike your question with this form. (Requires you to login to the site.) We'll post the best questions and answers here as regularly as possible. (Personal responses to questions will not be possible.)