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Overwintering two queen colonies

As I prepare for winter in the Northeastern USA, I have made a few combos of my smaller but still healthy and strong hives. One of them I had a hard time finding the queen, so I just put an excluder between the boxes. The other one I did find and separate the queen, but now I’m wondering if I can’t keep all the queens through winter …. So I have a plan…

Hive configuration 1: deep box with a queen A on bottom, then an excluder, super on top with queen B, winter patty across the top bars, shim, quiltbox and covers.

Hive configuration 2: deep box with queen C on bottom, then an excluder, deep box on top with queen D, winter patty across top bars, shim, quiltbox and covers.

Would it be safe to keep these hives like this through the winter, with two queens in each? I am concerned about the cluster moving up through the excluder leaving the lower queen below, or staying with her and starving. Maybe I could place another shim between the upper and lower boxes and add a winter patty to the lower box too? Just trying not to kill queens!

Each of those single box hives will need to be fed to make it through, so this would be one possible way. With an excluder on, the bees in the lower box will definitely be forced to abandon the queen once the stores in the deep are gone.

I would be concerned that one winter patty might not be enough to last all winter. One of my colonies ate through their winter patty in two weeks when I lifted the lid to check on a warm day last week. The other colony had barely touched theirs.

Maybe consider getting 2 more lids and insulation to create four single deeps, and plan on checking/replacing patties on a regular basis.

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Hi Eva, thanks for your reply!

I would have loved to have kept them all separate, but they were too small. Two of the hives were late swarms and only had 4 frames of bees. The queens did a really great job of maintaining their hives, their brood pattern was really solid , but the bees just didn’t have the resources to build out more comb (really tough weather this summer… drought followed by flood, repeat 3x) so they just lived happily all summer on 4 frames.

Maybe I could do kindof a double screen type deal? So bottom deep box with a queen, lay some window screen on top, shim, another layer of window screen, then the other deep box on top with the other queen amd a top entrance? That way they can share warmth, but still be completely separate.

Ugh I think I’m just making things too complicated for myself because I can’t get rid of a queen 😵‍💫

I have another question… would it be too late to requeen a hot hive at this point? I have one hive that was pretty feisty all summer. I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt but always dreaded going in for inspections because they were not pleasant to worn with. My other hive are very mellow and just play along and we get along great. This one though, not so much. So I was thinking I could use this opportunity, since I have a nice queen needing a home, to take out the hot one, leave them queenless for a day or two, and then introduce the new one. Another thing to mention is that the “new” queen would actually be of the same lineage as the “old hot” one (I did an artificial swarm split in the spring where I took the queen and half the hive to a new location/box and left the original queenless to raise their own). Anyway, what are your thoughts on requeening at this time of year?

Sorry for all the words, I don’t get out much and tend to overexplain anyway :laughing: thank you for your guidance!

Cheers,
Erin

Hey Erin! Glad to help, and reading all your ‘words’ shows you’re a thoughtful beek, plus it gives me a pleasant focus during my latest bout of insomnia :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Putting these ones into (wooden, not coreflute ones you buy bees in) nucleus boxes with solid feed could be a more efficient way to overwinter them. Especially if there isn’t much comb on the other frames in the deep. You can still help them conserve warmth by putting them side by side and using insulation. I’ve never had a small enough colony to try it myself but this is not an uncommon practice.

Interesting idea, but my rationale for suggesting the single boxes, whether nuc sized or 8 frame, is because the stacked system you describe would basically prevent you from checking on and adding more feed throughout winter.

Yes. There’s no brood being raised right now so you wouldn’t gain anything other than the risk that your feisty colony would take the replacement queen for a scrape. You wouldn’t have any way of knowing whether she was accepted and then potentially find a queenless colony in spring. Definitely assess matters then though, and you’d be able to make sure it works and look forward to the results of a calmer colony for the whole season!

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I have never tried what you suggest or heard of it being done so this is just speculation.
However, apart from perfect supercedure, if you want to keep two queens in a single hive complex its usually necessary to put a substantial separation between both brood boxes. For queen rearing this would usually be two supers.
Its not feasible to do that in your case as you would be massively increasing the space to be kept warm by the bees.
Placing two colonies close together separated by a QE raises the question if they will make two winter clusters or one. My feeling is that the colonies will integrate, kill one queen and form one cluster. And then you have the problem, as you note yourself, of the QE, whcih should always be off for winter.

I think that doing as you suggest will result in one or no queens surviving the winter.

I don’t know the odds of a successful requeening but I suspect they would be fairly low. I think it would be better to get rid of your hot queen and then unite the colony, over newspaper, with one of the others. That would have a greater chance of success. You will have to consider that you will also be adding another brood box, and the implications this has for the winter space.

Its already quite late. My hives have been left alone for winter now for the past month and apart from oxalic next month, i dont anticipate doing anything with them until next march.

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This idea does seem attractive at first thought. I have never tried it.

I read somewhere - one problem that can arise when the weak colony is on top and there is no vapor barrier between the two colonies that all the heat (and water vapor) from both colonies rises up and condenses above the weak colony, which is more than they can handle.

So, if you’re going to stack them, keep them completely separated vertically or horizontally. If you put them directly side by side they will cluster against the warm side, not just in the middle of their box. They’ll still share heat but won’t share humidity (or tempers).

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Thanks for your reply! It has been very unusually warm this Fall… it was almost 70°F a few days ago! Normally we’re in solid low 40s at this point, so I am very grateful for the extra time this year to think get things better organized.

The hot colony is a lot bigger and heavier, so would I be able to remove the hot queen, lay the newspaper down, and then put the nice queenright colony on top? The hot colony has a deep brood box, and a super almost full of honey. I would shake all the bees in the super down into the brood box, lay newspaper, and then move the new nice queen and her bees (4 frames) into the super and consolidate the frames using only the best ones. Does a combo always have to add TO the queenright location, or can you add to the queenless location, to save a bit of labor?

I don’t think it really matters - but you may worry about the strong, newly queenless, colony accepting the small colony and queen, you should make their combining as gradual as you can.

If you’re doing this sort of thing on a day or during a season when there is a lot of foraging activity then I think it would make more sense to move the stronger colony - so the grumpy old foragers head back to the old location. But if nobody is flying there’s probably little difference.

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Oh good! Those deep boxes are HEAVY! Good point about the returning foragers, I’ll definitely pick a day where it’s warm enough for manipulations but not so warm where there’s tons of foragers out and about. I’ll put down 5 or 6 layers of newspaper, or I even have some brown packing paper I could use. It’s about the thickness of a brown paper bag, could that work? Thanks again so much!!

They’ll get through it faster than you think!

:joy: okay so maybe two or three layers of paper bags?

Yes, that is the way I would do it.