VBA Logo 2016


Winter Losses - Ahead of Schedule


Winter Losses...Ahead of Schedule

John Bodin writes:

Hi Mike,

Seems like my bees are a month ahead of schedule. I had 70% winter loss, including the double VT nucs that I got at the meeting this past summer. :( The 3 hives that did make though are very strong.

My question is, do you think it's too early to start splits? One hive has 3 deep supers, each of them has 5 frames full of capped brood and fresh eggs, as well as a few frames full of pollen & nectar. I have a medium super between 2 of the deeps that is also housing 6 frames of capped brood and honey. There are queen cups on the bottoms of several of the frames, but I didn't go searching for queen cells because I didn't want to disturb the brood more than I did.

The other 2 hives are in similar shape with lots of activity in both, as well as evidence of fresh brood. Lots of pollen coming in and being stored in all 3. I did dust 2 of the hives with confectionary sugar, as a treatment for mites 2 days ago, although I didn't see any visible sign of them in the hives as I was looking through them. I'm thinking of trying to do some splits next week after the rain/snowy weather passes.

Do you have a preferred method of splitting your hives? I've had good luck in the past with making splits, and placing the split on top of its mother hive and separating them with a queen excluder. Any thoughts or tips you could share would be most appreciated.

Also wondering if the numbers are in from our fellow VT beekeeping members on their survival rates for this past winter. Hope all is well in your bee yards.


Sorry about your colony losses John. Any ideas why they didn't make the winter?

Colony survival was exceptional this winter, with many colonies busting out at the seams. Dandelions are popping in the valley, and with some rain and warm weather the spring dandelion/fruit bloom nectar flow should be here soon. With the strength of the colonies this year, I expect they will be starting swarm preparations as well.

We started supering on Wednesday of this week, and as soon as the dandelions are blooming in the fields...I'm only seeing them in some of the warmest, south facing spots...we'll begin reversing the broodnests. It's at broodnest reversal that I like to make my spring splits. There's usually a good flow on at that time, and all bee work is easier and more successful during a strong nectar flow.

I wouldn't split my bees yet, as I prefer to wait until the dandelion flow is well under way. Will you be buying queens for the new colonies or will you rely on walk away splits where the bees raise their own queen from the young brood you included in the split? If you plan on walk away splits, I would definitely wait until there is a good flow on. If you're buying in queens from the South, I guess you could go ahead and make up some nucs from those strongest colonies.

My preferred method of setting up nucs is probably similar to your queen excluder method. Remove the frames of brood and bees and honey from the parent, shaking off all the bees as you go. Arrange the combs in an empty hive body something like: 1 honey, 2 sealed brood, one open brood, one pollen/honey. Place over excluder overnight, and next day re-locate to bottom board on new stand. Give them a caged queen.

I haven't heard from many beekeepers this spring about colony survival. It's hard to collate winter losses as beekeeper ability varies so greatly. If you were to read The Press-Republican newspaper from Plattsburg, you might believe there were massive bee losses in the Northeast. Among some levels of beekeeping, there are always massive losses. If the beekeepers don't know how to properly prepare a honeybee colony for winter, or control the varroa mite population in their hives, they lose their bees. Usually all their bees. If the beekeeper is relying on southern packaged bees each year to replace their losses and/or to start new colonies, large losses can be expected.

Talking to my commercial beekeeping friends throughout the Northeast and Atlantic states, the actual colony losses are running below 10%. In my operation, losses the first time through when we unwrapped the hives were about 4% in both production colonies and nucleus colonies. As we get deeper into colony management, and find the queenless colonies and drone laying queens, I expect the % loss to creep up to somewhere just below that 10% mark.

Good luck this spring.

- Mike

- 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.)