Winter-through-Spring build-up / Notes-to-self

Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum

Help Support Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

boywonder

House Bee
Joined
Sep 7, 2013
Messages
289
Reaction score
204
Location
Loughborough
Hive Type
14x12
Number of Hives
11
Wow… If you have the patience to read all of the below, I would welcome any related comments/advice/experience:

Last year (in May), and, in part as a result of some somewhat neglectful beekeeping (well, I had at least failed to spot 2 swarm cells), my ‘White Queen’ swarmed; she being my favourite ever; a 2016 specimen and a prolific layer… and this at a time at which I had a shortage of kit.

I caught the swarm, and, kit-wise, had only one spare floor, one roof, and a few supers/drawn frames, so I made a makeshift hive, housing the Queen and her fleeing entourage in a shallow (super) with some drawn frames, a couple of which had some food.

‘Note-to-self’ 1: Always make sure you have more than enough kit at the beginning of the season to meet your likely needs

Given that: a) I live in a rural area where there are usually abundant nectar sources, b) there is therefore usually no hugely perceptible ‘June Gap’ and c) I am (was) dead-against feeding bees (even caught swarms) with syrup during the season itself … I elected to leave them to their own devices…. So:

  • June: Queen laying (but only really on one shallow frame out of the 11), so only very, very little brood, and no colony expansion whatsoever
  • July: Ditto; mid-month, when there were nectar flows, I re-homed them into a new national standard box, taking two of the shallow frames (actually, the only two with bees, brood and stores of any sort), along with 9 frames with undrawn (KBS) foundation. I moved this hive to my out-apiary, in the vicinity of significant wildflower sources … upon which I expected the captured swarm to (finally !!) spring into action, draw out some comb, and at last give the Queen some space to lay in earnest, but instead …….. as I say, she continued laying only very small numbers of brood, and there was no colony expansion at all - but also no indication they desired supersedure
  • August: Ditto
  • September: Ditto
  • October: Was ‘ditto’ … until, alongside my other two colonies, I gave an (admittedly late) autumn feed of 2:1 syrup; of which they quickly guzzled about a gallon and then stopped. This ‘spurt’ encouraged them to build at least some new comb - leaving the bees still probably only the equivalent, in total, of 2 to 2.5 national frames of viable comb (one of which was still an original drawn shallow), for brood and stores … of which they now had at least some

… so basically 2 frames, sparsely populated with bees, brood and some limited stores.

‘Note-to-self’ 2: Never be afraid to feed in-season, if the circumstances warrant it - especially if you need to promote drawing of foundation. Had I done so in May, the outcome would most likely have been radically different.

At this point, my head was telling me just to call it a (very) bad job, and throw the bees out onto the grass, but my heart would not allow me to. I therefore brought the bees home, and transferred 6 of the frames into a poly-nuc, above and below which I put some Celotex, introducing about 500g of Candipolline over the top-bars.

Since then, I continued to see a very small amount of activity from this box over the rest of Oct/Nov/Dec, including the odd bee on a cleansing flight in the milder weather and the expulsion of dead bees.

So (given the probability of at least some live bees) in order to properly assess the situation, and to form a related plan of action, on a mild day in the New Year, I lifted the lid.

To my surprise, the size and location of the cluster seemed to indicate colony growth (both comb and bees) during the interceding months. The October fondant was all gone, and I therefore felt inclined to give them another 500g.

Well, today is 9 degrees here, with tomorrow forecast to be 13, so I have again taken another quick peek under the lid….

Madness. The cluster is now c.a. twice the size of a couple of weeks ago, and spans 4 of the 6 frames, with almost all the fondant gone. Blow-it - - -> on has gone the feeder, filled to the gunnels with inverted syrup.

I do not want to tempt fate, but it would not surprise me to reach late Feb/early March with these girls bursting from the nuc, and in need of a larger home.

I am completely blown away by how no more than a couple of hundred bees, with only limited stores, look not only likely to overwinter, but possibly with extremely significant colony growth (albeit with a helping hand).

‘Note-to-self’ 3: Nature is amazing. I must never think my bees are a lost cause, until the fat lady has sung.

‘Note-to-self’ 4: Consider expanding my use of polystyrene (eurghhhh!) - beyond my nuc boxes, and into my ‘production’ hives; there would appear to be at least some chance that the thermal benefits are one of the things which has kept these girls alive.

Every day a school-day, as they say.
 
Last edited:
"June: Queen laying (but only really on one shallow frame out of the 11), so only very, very little brood, and no colony expansion whatsoever
July: Ditto; mid-month, when there were nectar flows, I re-homed them into a new national standard box, taking two of the shallow frames (actually, the only two with bees, brood and stores of any sort), along with 9 frames with undrawn (KBS) foundation"

So you stuffed a very small colony into a largely empty box. Did not feed and then they did not grow. Bee colonies require space commensurate with the number of bees: too little space and they swarm , too much especially for a small colony and they cannot raise enough heat to keep brood alive.
 
"June: Queen laying (but only really on one shallow frame out of the 11), so only very, very little brood, and no colony expansion whatsoever
July: Ditto; mid-month, when there were nectar flows, I re-homed them into a new national standard box, taking two of the shallow frames (actually, the only two with bees, brood and stores of any sort), along with 9 frames with undrawn (KBS) foundation"

So you stuffed a very small colony into a largely empty box. Did not feed and then they did not grow. Bee colonies require space commensurate with the number of bees: too little space and they swarm , too much especially for a small colony and they cannot raise enough heat to keep brood alive.

Then you saw sense, put them into a poly nuc and fed them. So they grew. No surprise there really.
 
only issue you are going to have now is weather is still crappy but feeding pollen sub and then syrup they are going to think its Spring already and keep expanding...
 
Take the feeder off, they obviously don't need it.

Why-so ? (that is a sincere question - not me posturing)

If they have not only survived, but are rearing brood in reasonable numbers; given both that we are still in winter, and can also reasonably expect patches of severe weather between now and the end of March ... and also given that they went into that nuc in October very light on stores indeed, the last thing I want is for them to starve. I assume you disagree with me that there is that risk (?) and if, so, I'd be curious to know why. My own thinking is that, if the food is there for them to access (if they are below it, and/or break cluster), then at least they have that option. In my limited experience, they will only take what they need in any case.

I do accept, of course, that my husbandry might be leading them to expand prematurely (in which case, I am hoist by my own petard, I must concede), but withdrawing the feeder does not feel instinctively correct. Cheers.
 
You really only need to feed 1> to stimulate the queen to lay or 2> to feed the bees because they have little or no stores and would starve if you did not feed.

1> queen laying - you appear to have achieved
2> you did not comment on stores.

I would suggest you weigh the nuc - each side and add the weights and tell us the results. Assuming it's a 5 frame polynuc, any weight above approx 10kg suggests they have lots of stores , 7-9kg suggests stores are ok but largescale brood rearing could reduce that very rapidly.. and below 7kg says to me to keep feeding.

And if they do continue to grow you'll have to monitor it carefully through March and April when there is little nectar flow...

(I considered suggesting "hefting" but unless you are experienced, then what you think may be light or heavy may in reality not be. Actual weights make advice/decisions at a distance easier)

Others may disagree with those numbers and strategy..
 
I would suggest you weigh the nuc - each side and add the weights and tell us the results. Assuming it's a 5 frame polynuc, any weight above approx 10kg suggests they have lots of stores , 7-9kg suggests stores are ok but largescale brood rearing could reduce that very rapidly.. and below 7kg says to me to keep feeding.

Thanks so much - to you and others for advice on this thread. It is clear to me that (as well as feeding in May), I should have managed the colony in a space appropriate to its size during summer.

I do heft my hives, and am developing a decent sense of what is light ... but to go directly to the point about the weight of this particular nuc ... It went on the scales this morning (without the feeder!) and came in at 5.5kg, so I think I feel vindicated in continuing to feed.

Cheers.
 
Thanks so much - to you and others for advice on this thread. It is clear to me that (as well as feeding in May), I should have managed the colony in a space appropriate to its size during summer.

I do heft my hives, and am developing a decent sense of what is light ... but to go directly to the point about the weight of this particular nuc ... It went on the scales this morning (without the feeder!) and came in at 5.5kg, so I think I feel vindicated in continuing to feed.

Cheers.

I agree. At 5.5kg it's close to having zero stores..
 

Latest posts

Back
Top