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Mid-Winter- Weak Hive - Can anything bee done?

Yesterday I took advantage of warm weather to look into 3 hives at my hills apiary. Two are doing very well. But my long hive is very weak- and seems liek it has possibly gone queenless. There are only 3 frames with bees on them- and ony one with two small batches of capped brood. No signs of eggs or larvae. Didn’t see a queen though did see signs of one old queen cup/cell. Not sure if that was a torn down cell or no. The bees have a few frames of honey so no immediate issue with stores.

There are two scenario’s as I see it:

1)there is a queen- either she is a virgin or has stopped laying
2) there is no queen- and no way to make one

The bees have around 60 days to go to get through winter. It will probably get pretty cold where they are at at times.

I want to save that colony if I can as they are the gentle yellow italian bee and my only hive of that type. As I see it my only options are to either add a frame of brood now- or to leave them alone and just hope enough bees make it through the winter to be built back up early spring.

If I added a frame of brood now- would the bees even try to make a queen mid-winter? If they did: and she couldn’t get mated (cold and few drones)- do virgin queens ever hang around through winter waiting until they can get mated in spring?

the issues I worry about adding brood is that I’ll have to disturb another colony to get it- and I am worried it may chill with only enough bees to just cover it- and night time temps down to 0C at times… also I realise I will lose the italian strain if I add brood from another hive.

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From what I understand there is only a certain window for the queen to mate. If she does not mate in that period then she cannot mate later.

Might be worth putting that lot into a small nuc and see if there is a queen who starts laying later.

I agree in that I would not disturb the two good hives.

Cheers
Rob.

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It’s something I’m trying to learn about, if some queens stop laying in our mild winters.
I observed really small brood nests in winter that can explode in spring.
But you said the amount of bees is reduced too, so I don’t know any answer.
All I can say is, some of my colonies really shrink down in winter (never under 10C) and I worry, and come spring, they come back strong and refreshed.
It’s my first subtropical winter with 20 colonies, and they sure all have their own personal ways of overwintering.

Most colonies seem to maintain their weight. Some achieve it by shrinking, others by foraging in adverse weather conditions, while the shrinkers wait and rest.
Wonder how a colony can suddenly go queenless in winter. Is that a common thing I should look out for?

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I would think our Winters are very similar and my queens reduce in egg laying but only by maybe 10% compared to Summer. Even my hives I had in the Hawkesbury and Mudgee area the queen still laid eggs but only enough to sustain the hives over the sub zero temperature at night. I guess it was all about maintaining enough warmth for the brood and cluster, but as soon as there was a slight rise in the night temps the colonies would explode in numbers.
But up here there is foraging continually, if it isn’t raining, over the cooler period that we call a Winter. On warmer days I still get inspections done but it is just a matter of watching the weather forecasts with the BoM with their 14 day forecasts for the better days.
I figure that our mild Winters would play no part if a hive becomes queen-less so I would look for the usual causes, after all, our Winters are hardly cold when compared to other places in the world where bees are kept. I’m thinking the bees in the colony would keep the queen warm till the numbers became so few that the queen would eventually succumb to the cold.
Cheers, Peter

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Hi Jack, do you get any sunny days where temps get over 20C? If so, I’d pick one of those days to quickly grab a frame of brood to donate to the weak hive. Even if the bees can’t make a queen with it, simply to maintain numbers until spring arrives.

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as it happens- just the last few days have been around 20 c and very sunny- the bees have taken advantage and are very active. But that ends tomorrow with a period or cold and rain. Generally we do have some sunny days throughout winter- but the nights can be cold - in the hills the temp can drop to just below zero on accasions and every so often there is even some light snow.

I have a feeling that if I go into the other two hives I will find all the outer frames 100% capped honey and maybe only some brood on the middle three frames or so. I am always slightly concerned stealing brood that I will harm a colony or worst case scenario disturb or damage the queen. Especially so in winter. Also those hills bees tend to get more aggravated when you open them up in cold weather. But I will look at the forecast and if there is a suitable window I will try and do that. A single frame could just give them enough number to make it through to spring- when I could boost them with several more frames.

@Rmcpb being as that is my long hive it’s a little difficult to transfer them to a nuc as I’d have to move the long hive out of the way- but I can and will put in two follower boards reducing the cluster down to four frames for the rest of winter. Hopefully they actually have a queen- otherwise I fear they won’t make it.

Yesterday I inspected another hive in the burbs- that had a brood with a super on it that we harvested at the very end of Autumn. My plan was to remove that super but the good bees there have refilled if 50% with some capped and plenty of very wet nectar so I decided to leave it on. That colony was very strong and very active yesterday.

Hi jack, I would bring that week colony home and deal with it here. Jeff’s lap top is down so I typed this for him on my phone. Cheers Wilma.

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Thanks Wilma! I would do that but it’s too difficult being a long horizzontal hive. It’s not made to be easily moved. That’s one of the downsides of that design…

regard,s
Jack

Hi Jack, I’m back on my PC, which I’d forgotten about at the time of Wilma posting on her tiny phone. Her laptop is also down. I’ve been busy since then.

That’s the one big downside of long hives, unable to easily move them around.

In relation to the weak colony. You have to weigh up the risk vs the reward. Me, I would on a warm day take the risk & grab a frame of brood to donate to it. On a warm day, you could take a frame of brood from home to donate. Sealed brood can tolerate a much cooler environment than unsealed brood. That’s mainly what you want to donate. It will be no trouble keeping a frame of sealed brood out of a hive for the trip.

I recently observed emerging bees from comb that was left out of a hive for 3 days & nights. That was from a cut-out a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised to see that. Our nights are getting down to 10C.

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Yep- I would only consider giving that hive a frame of brood that was capped with bees already emerging. I would be worried with the frosty weather and low number of bees avialable that any other frame of brood would prove too difficult for the bees to keep warm. At this time of year chalk brood would be a distinct possiblity- Last winter it was much worse in SA than previous years. It’s cold again- so i will keep an eye on the forecasts and if a window of opportunity arrises then I will try and find some brood to eek them through the next 50 days.

Failing that I will just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best. I would say there is about a 25% chance that the bees do actually have a queen and if so they may make it on their own. Worse case scenario I repopultae the hive come spring.

I have noticed a pattern emerging with my hives: ones that were started with purchased bees have had a higher rate of success and productivity on average over colonies established from swarms. Next spring I plan to make more splits from proven hives and be more cautious about swarms I catch. I might also purchase a few italian yellow queens just to get more diversity in the types of bees I have. This year has been one long struglle: lots of beekeeping work- but very little reward.

Hopefully the good rains we have had will bode well for the coming season.

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