Tag Archive | freeze

Do Bees Hibernate?

January 31, 2016 (Sunday)

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Temperatures got up to a whopping 54 degrees today!  After weeks of freezing temperatures and a 3ft snowfall, I finally had the chance to check on my girls and restock their candy supply. 54 degrees is still somewhat cold for the bees.  I certainly wouldn’t start pulling out frames and breaking apart boxes until the temps are at least in the 60’s.  Below 50 degrees, the bees begin to cluster.  Bees need to cluster in the cold because that’s how they generate heat and stay warm.

What Bees Do During the Wintertime

People often ask me if the bees are hibernating.  Well, bees don’t really hibernate.  Yes, they collect food to prepare for the winter, and yes, they stay in their hives during temperatures below 50 degrees.  Once the temps drop into the 40s or lower, the bees cluster around the queen and they use their wings to generate heat.  The larger the cluster, the more heat they can generate and the better chance they have of surviving the winter, as long as there’s enough food in the hive to keep them from starving.  Bees don’t sleep.  They work around the clock…each one has a role and a purpose.

Opening the hives in temperatures below 50 degrees risks breaking the cluster.  Best not to disturb the bees in the cold.  When the cluster is broken, or when bees get separated from the cluster in the cold, they can freeze.  So my rule of thumb is, if I see the bees out and about, then it’s ok for me to open the tops of the hives and add candy.

Checking on the Girls

I schlepped up to the hives to find them flying in full force, and judging by the blanket of bees atop the blanket of snow, they’ve been super busy cleaning house.  This is a good thing.  They clean all the dead bees and debris out of the hives whenever possible.  This helps prevent disease and keeps the colony healthy.  They’ve also been busy taking orientation flights (another term for much needed potty break), and bringing in pollen.  Yep, the little buggers found pollen in this desolate white land.  Gotta love their spunk!  It was a happy sight, indeed.

RIP Green Hive

I’d been anticipating the demise of Green Hive since the last time I’d checked on them.  Lots of bees were flying in and around the hive.  I also noticed some bees fighting at the bottom entrance (shown below).  A sign that Green Hive was being robbed by the other bees.

I opened the top and sure enough, the other bees were robbing the remaining candy and honey, and Green Hive’s cluster stared up from between the frames in a dead, frozen state (shown below).  Not one of my prouder moments as a beekeeper since I decided to take them into winter with two boxes rather than combining them with a stronger hive.  Another lesson learned…

Freezing temperatures are best for preserving dead hives since parasites won’t infest the hives as long as the temperatures are freezing.  Once things start to warm up in March, I’ll clean it up and get it ready to take in a new split colony in the spring, along with Blue Hive.

Recycled Swarm Trap

As I walked around the garden I noticed that the swarm trap that had been left up since last spring, has been claimed by some other form of wildlife.  I suspect squirrels.  They chewed large holes in both sides, and another hole that appears to be stuffed with garbage – plastic, paper, and who knows what else (shown below).  Well, if it couldn’t house a swarm, then I’m glad something else found a good use for it.  We’ll build another one in a few months and hope that it catches more swarms than this one did.

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After this weekend, we’re all back in cabin fever mode.  Hope it won’t be too long again before we get another reprieve.  Stay warm everyone and let’s hope Mr. Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow.  Early spring would bee nice :o)

 

 

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Wax Moths…Eww!

September 9, 2015

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I just had my first, and hopefully last encounter with wax moths. My fault…most wax moth encounters are due to the beekeeper’s negligence. I uncovered several stacked boxes of frames with drawn comb in which I had forgotten to add moth crystals. The frames had been stored there since mid-July. I could smell the stench upon lifting the cover – the frames were infested with wax moths, wormy larvae, webs and droppings – like a creepy, disgusting Halloween prop, only this was real.  Blah!

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Wax Moths and Bees

A wax moth infestation can destroy a hive. They like dark, warm areas with minimal air flow; and because they’re highly attracted to beeswax, the combination of dark, closed up boxes with frame upon frame of drawn comb is irresistible to wax moths who prey on and infest weak hives.

I’m grateful they only infested two boxes of frames and not four or six.  I’m even more grateful that they weren’t in my hives. What a horrible demise for bees, and a shameful mess for the beekeeper.

 

Preventing Wax Moth Infestations

There are several ways to store frames to prevent wax moth infestation.

  • Store frames in an airy location with plenty of light. Moths do not like light, nor do they appreciate steady air flow. I’ve heard of beekeepers openly hanging frames across the inside of well-lit buildings or barns, for example.
  • Use a fan to blow a steady flow of air through the frames. The downside would be the 24×7 operation of a fan (or two) over several months.
  • Store frames in a truly airtight container. I know beekeepers who store their drawn frames in airtight rubbermade containers – like the kind you keep clothes in under the bed – and store them in their basements. However, you need to be 300% certain it is truly air tight. Wax moths can access the tiniest of openings.
  • Store boxes and frames outdoors in freezing temperatures. All stages of wax moth will die within 24 hours in freezing temperatures (36 degrees F or lower).
  • Store frames with PDB moth crystals. This is my method (so much for chemical free beekeeping). Only use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB). These will kill all stages of wax moth, except the eggs. The crystals will dissolve gradually over several weeks/months time, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees.

 

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Cleaning Up the Mess

So what steps did I take to clean up this mess and ensure it doesn’t happen again?

  • Freeze the boxes and frames. Wax moths, eggs and larvae will all die if frozen for 24 hours. I have a freezer in the garage for freezing frames and boxes. This luxury has been put to great use over the last 2 years. It’s always a good idea to freeze boxes and frames before moving them to the hives, or even before extracting honey; or for saving honey frames until you’re ready to extract. I can easily fit two 8-frame boxes with frames into our upright freezer.

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  • Clean the frames. I placed a tarp on the ground in the driveway and grabbed my trusty pallet knife and scraped off the webs, droppings and debris, and cut out the areas that were severely damaged.

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  • Store the frames and boxes. I use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB) to store frames with drawn comb. No longer will I boast of chemical free beekeeping – this is my one vice. For me, it’s the easiest, most worry free way to ensure that your comb and boxes are moth free. I simply add a spoonful of crystals on a piece of cardboard that’s placed on top of the frames, then I add another box of frames and another piece of cardboard with another spoonful of crystals. When all boxes are stacked, air tight, then place a top cover on top with a heavy brick or object on top of that to weigh it down.

 

The crystals will dissolve gradually, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees. Preferably in an open, well lit, well ventilated location. And if that location happens to bee below 36 degrees F, then even better!

Just keep in mind that not all will bee lost. Wax can always bee rendered down in the spring and replaced with new wax, and frames that are salvageable can go back into the hives and will bee cleaned further by the bees. Bees are workers and cleaners. They’re programmed to build comb in the spring, so they’ll fill in the gaps and put the frames to good use. Waste not, want not…you’ve gotta love’em.

RIP Yellow Hive 2

Yellow Hive 2 (YH2)

May 11, 2013 –  February 2, 2014

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Our 50+ degree weekend unveiled some bad news.  Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) has died.   YH2 was always a challenging colony.  It never behaved as actively as green hive, and never built up as quickly as green hive.  It threw me curve balls – like the time I discovered it had requeened itself just when I was ready to give them a $50 Texas queen.  Thanks to YH2, we have Blue Hive 3.  

Although YH2 started off strong, I could tell in late November that their numbers were starting to diminish.  They were still flying two weeks ago, then cold temps returned.  Its loss is not a huge surprise, but still disappointing and sad since somewhere along the way, despite my best efforts, worry, lack of sleep and second guessing, something went wrong.  YH2 is my first hive loss.

Suspected Causes

I opened the boxes and noticed a considerable amount of moisture had accumulated on the frames and comb and the interior felt damp.  The brood comb even appeared to be growing mold across the frames.  Mites were also visible among the dead bees, and the bottom board revealed quite a few mites, as well.   With these problems and the cluster’s decreasing size, the girls just weren’t able to stay warm and likely froze to death.  The cluster, although small, was still in tact, and the hive will remain intact for outdoor storage until the warmer temperatures set in.

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Moisture accumulated in the form of sugar syrup on the surfaces of the frames. Mold was beginning to form. The brood had been abandoned and they left quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup in the brood chamber.

The cluster was small and intact.  To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

The cluster was small and intact. To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

Lessons Learned and Corrective Actions

If the air flow in the hive is not adequate, then moisture can’t escape.  Moisture is a huge enemy to bees, especially in cold weather.  Some thoughts on what might have gone wrong and corrective actions …

  • Covered Top Frames Too Heavily with Candy.  Covering the top frames blocks air from circulating up top, thus preventing moisture from escaping.  I’m told that candy and supplemental feeding should cover no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the surface over the top frames, and that area should be the section that first receives the morning sun.
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Top frames are completely covered with candy, thus preventing air from rising to the top and moisture from escaping. Another mistake was leaving in the hive beetle traps since they also block air and prevent ventilation.


  • It was suggested that the top spacer containing the cedar chips might actually prevent air flow.  Instead, I plan to remove the box and add a stick or something that will raise the top telescoping cover just enough to create a small opening that will allow air to flow in and out.
  • I also added a mite board to Yellow and Green Hives early on to provide solid bottoms.  This too may have caused less air flow in the hive.  I was told not to abruptly remove the mite board from green hive because the bee cluster situates itself in the location that is the warmest.  By abruptly removing the mite board, they’ll be exposed and may not be able to adjust to a new location quick enough, and they may end up abandoning some of their brood because it’s too cold for the nurse bees to care for it.   I wish someone had told me this a day earlier before I so abruptly removed GH1’s mite board.  Ugh.
  • One last suggestion was to stop feeding syrup earlier in the season.  I stopped liquid in October, just before packing them up for winter.  I need to stop this year by, say, mid-September.  The frames showed quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup, adding to the liquid and moisture in the hive.  Bees need time to not only store and cap their food, but it also needs some time to dry out a bit.  The reason we feed candy in the winter is because they don’t digest the liquid diet well, thus requiring more flights to relieve themselves.  The same goes for their stores.   If they syrup is still runny, then its like feeding them a liquid diet in the winter, which produces moisture in the hive and can result in nosema and disentary.  Moisture in winter is just bad all around.

Next Steps

  1. Apply Lessons Learned to green hive so they don’t endure the same demise – clear frames, remove cedar chips, prop top cover.
  2. Keep yellow hive boxes and comb outside for storage while temps are still cold, but plan for storage of extra drawn frames once the weather warms.
  3. Even with mold, bees will clean out the frames in the spring and reuse as they see fit.
  4. Order one or two packages just to be sure I have at least two hives going in the spring.
  5. Plan to stop feeding earlier in the season next year so they have time to cap and dry out the stores before they are put away for winter.

Farewell YH2

YH2, you were a good hive, one of my original two colonies.  You minded your own business and preferred to be left alone.  I’m sorry you didn’t get an experienced beekeeper, but I’m a better beekeeper because of you.  Know that your tolerance and sacrifice will benefit future colonies that will someday call Yellow Hive their home.   RIP YH2.  I hope you’re in a warmer place where you can be out and about making lots of sweet honey.