Bee Winter Survival Rate and Exciting News!

It’s Been A Hard Winter For Bees In MA


2013-2014 has been hard winter for bees everywhere and Massachusetts is no exception.  I know beekeepers throughout the area who have lost bees, and many have lost all their bees – unfortunately they are not alone.  At the Mass Bee meeting a couple of weeks ago, it was mentioned by the head apiary inspector, that he estimated 80% of the bees in MA died this winter.  This means MA beekeepers had an average bee winter survival rate of 20%. Based on those stats, anyone in MA who still has bees alive should be very happy!

What about my bee winter survival rate? How did my bees fare?

Last weekend I had a chance to check 4 of my hives. Considering the harsh winter and large colony losses across the state, I am feeling very happy with what I found.

this hive

This hive was doing well and quite angry I opened them.  They expressed their feelings with a sting in my palm!

This past winter I was really hard on my bees. The weak ones, were left for dead and the strong were left to prosper. I did not wrap any hives, screened bottom boards were left open all winter long, hives were left buried in snow, insulation did not happen until late December, at which time there had already been many freezing cold days. In January, I started worrying about the nucs I was overwintering, so at the end of the month they were given candy boards, along with 2 full size hives that were struggling in the fall and did not have enough stores to last the winter.  None of my other hives were fed anything all season long and had to survive only on what they gathered.

brianbees

This hive was doing great so Brian added honey supers early since we both will be busy when it is time to add boxes in a few weeks.

In addition, as some of you know, I do not treat my hives with anything.  Nothing goes in the hive that bees don’t put there, except the occasional feeding of struggling colonies.  This does not mean I just let bees get sick, which I hear as a criticism of treatment free beekeeping. In many cases mite resistant genetics and hive manipulations can help decrease varroa levels and allow the bees to prosper.   Still many treatment free beekeepers can expect to lose 75% of their bees when they first start out, until a localized stock is developed and then survival rates increase.


So I was thrilled when I checked my bees and found three of the four hives were alive, 2 were thriving, 1 was struggling, but that was expected. It had little stores going into winter and was one of the two full size hives given a candy board.

DSC_0005

The struggling hive had only 2 frames of bees.

Sadly, the last of the 4 hives was dead from mite related viruses. The genetics of this colony came from a hive that issued 7 swarms last year (I caught 2 and another beekeeper caught 5), and every one of them died along with the original colony, so I think this line of bees was just not “meant to bee” in the first place.

Now For A Surprise and Exciting News!

You may be wondering why I was so hard on my bees. I’m not recommending my method or implying others should try it.  The main reason was/is I am expecting a baby boy (#3) any week now.

Anitabees

Hey look – 8 1/2 months pregnant and my bee suit still fits! Plus this hive is thriving after a tough winter.

Last fall I was not feeling well with the pregnancy (I’ll spare you the nauseating details) and did not want to do anything, let alone go anywhere near my hives.  After some convincing, my husband helped with them in December and January but that was all those bees were going to get!  Taking all this into account the hives still alive are strong survivor bees and need very little coddling.  This is something a busy mom and beekeeper can celebrate!

On a related note, Brian and I still have not come up with a name for baby #3 yet, so if you have a good suggestion, please leave it in the comments below!

To find out the latest baby news or how the rest of my bees fared this winter, sign up now for our free email newsletter and check the box weekly blog posts below.

Author: Anita Deeley

Anita Deeley is a biologist who maintains 80 honey bee hives. She is the beekeeper, writer, owner and creator of BeverlyBees.com. When she is not spending time with her girls (the bees), she enjoys being a wife to her beekeeping cohort, Brian and mother to 3 little boys (the beekeepers in training). Read more about Anita here >> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Connect with Anita on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or Facebook here.

13 Comments

  1. Congratulations on the baby and the bees!

  2. Though partly unplanned and partly planned your “bee abandon” practice is actually good confirmation of a beekeeping theory – that we may be fighting Nature by “over-caring” for bees and hence propagating various problems Nature would have dealt with quickly and viciously.
    I am getting first two hives of my own this Spring (have built them over Winter, purchased bees, waiting…). Many things I learned from my grandfather (farmer with over 100 hives, overseas) are in sync with this line of thinking and I plan to apply those methods. One difference, though – insulation. Climate over there, in NJ where I now live and MA are similar. My grandfather have had practice I haven’t seen elsewhere and will recreate with modern materials: hives (standard Langstroth type) were year-round insulated by application of thick (2cm), shellacked rope all around. His reasoning was: “that’s how it have been done” by his father and his,… My guess is that this practice came about from merging over 19th and early 20th Century methods of old conical hives (where rope was insulation and structural) and new, Langstroth hives. It worked for grandpa’ – Winter losses were small (10%?). No additional insulation was used but rope was on year-round.
    One early item I’ll take from BeverlyBees practices – I never had hives named, but my two will be using system inspired by you: Lavender and Sage.
    Everything best with family addition!

    • Hi Dusan,

      I think there is a lot of truth to that beekeeping theory, but in practice it is hard, especially if you only have a few hives. It is much easier to implement when you have more bees and are not worried about losing a few colonies.

      I have not heard about that insulation method with the shellacked rope. Keep me posted on how that works out for you. Unfortunately there are a lot of things in beekeeping that have changed from when your grandfather kept bees. The biggest being the varroa mite and the viruses that it carries and everything beekeepers do to try to make the mites go away. Many bees are having a hard time managing these pests now and it makes it hard to just let the bees be bees. Which goes back to that beekeeping theory you mentioned, because if we had done that in the first place beekeeping nowadays might be similar to how it was back then and our bee stock may be better off for it.

      Congrats on your two new hives! I love your hive names! I wish I still named mine, but last year I had so many new colonies coming in through swarms and removals and making nucs, I got out of the habit of doing that. Good luck with your bees. This will be an exciting year for you.

  3. Hi Anita,
    how many frames of brood do you have in your strong bee hive? are they capped brood or uncapped,eggs and larvas?
    I overwintered five hives and all still a live but one is very week, i would say less that 2 frames of bees.
    the rest have 2 or full frames of brood but mostly uncapped.

    • Hi Faith,
      Glad to hear your bees survived the winter and are busy raising brood! Unfortunately, it was too cold to pull brood frames the day that I checked these hives, so that will have to wait until the next visit. The two strong hives shown here had 8-9 frames of bees in the top box, which was nice to see!

      • Hi again,
        how is the brood in that strong hives now? how many frames of brood do they have?
        during this cold days, my hives have slowed down. there were a lot of pollen coming when the weather was sunny and warmer.
        today, they just bring water

  4. Just found your site – congrats on overwintering your bees so well. I just got my first swarm after a ten year gap in beekeeping.

    We got a swarm from a feral colony that has been living continuously in the same roof space for at least 10 years. Optimistic for good genetics for a treatment free approach. I think that genetics are a key factor for people trying treatment free, and swarms from long standing feral colonies are a great way to start.

    I hope your kids get into bees as well – I’m looking forward to taking my little boy to see the bees when he is a bit older.

    • Hi Mike,

      What a great colony to get a swarm from. I agree that genetics have a lot to do with how well the bees fare when going treatment free so starting with a swarm from a feral colony that has been going strong for 10 years is perfect! My kids are torn on beekeeping so far, some days they like it some days they are bored with it but anytime they want to help me I let them. They really enjoy lighting the smoker though!

      • Well my swarm seem to have settled in nicely. They are drawing out some comb at least, but I haven’t opened them up to see how the queen is laying.

        I’ve also been offered a job doing a cutout on some bees living in a stables nearby. Been a while since I did one, and last time I wasn’t trying to preserve the bees. Hopefully it will all go smoothly.

        I just setup a website advertising my service doing swarm removals. Already lined up a couple of cutouts from it, but no nice easy swarm as yet.

        • Your website is great! Good luck with your swarm and cut out business. I have done both, the cut outs are hard on the bees, no matter how strong the colony is but I still try to save as many as I can. Swarms calls and traps are the way to go. It is much easier on the bees and you are getting them at a point when they are ready for the move, so they tend to do much better for me than the cut outs. Keep me posted on your cut out success, I’d love to hear how these colonies do for you in the long run.

  5. Hi Anita,

    I just found your site a couple of weeks ago. I did a Google search for *what to look for on first hive inspection* and found YOU! What a wonderful resource your site is for new beekeepers like us! My husband and I (with a little help from a friend) hived our first package of bees that I won at the SEMBA conference in March. Our second arrives this weekend. We are very excited, and trying to learn all we can. Thanks again for the wonderful site. And congratulations on your new baby boy!!

    Adair

    • Welcome Adair! I’m so glad you are enjoying my website. Congrats on your new beekeeping adventure and keep trying to learn as much as you can. The bees are wonderful teachers and will show you new things all the time. The new baby is doing well and is a cute little boy. My family is so happy to have him around!