If a colony is queenless in the fall, it will be dead by the following spring. As beekeepers prepare their hives for winter, they need to determine which colonies stand a chance of surviving the winter. Each hive should be inspected to see if its colony has enough bees to generate heat to stay alive throughout the winter. Any hive that is extremely weak needs to be combined with a strong hive. You can usually combine a weak hive with a stronger hive by simply smoking both hives to cover the bees' scents. If you are combining two fairly strong hives, you need to separate them with a sheet of newspaper to slow the mixing of bees to keep from fighting. If each hive being combined has a queen, the weaker queen can be removed. If you don’t remove one, the queens will fight and only one will survive.
To survive the winter, the bees need to have two things: adequate hive ventilation and enough food stored in a location where the winter cluster of bees can access it. This usually means that the honey stores need to be above the brood nest. I like to rearrange the boxes so that the brood nest is at the bottom of the hive and the honey is above it. The winter cluster of bees will eat the honey above it and move up slowly throughout the winter. The cluster of bees will occupy the honeycomb emptied of stored honey. If a hive doesn’t have adequate honey stores, it is necessary to feed the bees. Fumagillin added to the sugar syrup feed helps control Nosema disease. Ventilation at the top of the hive prevents condensation and moisture build-up. Today’s photo: Judith Rutschman and Richard Underhill. Judith hosts the Memphis television program, Nature of Conservation. Judith interviewed me on the air about honey bee health matters, the effect of chemicals in the environment on bees, and the role of bees in human food production.--Richard