February in the Pacific Northwest Colony by Dewey M. Caron
February is a “pivotal” month for PNW bees. Queens have started laying eggs, especially those less than a year old. Our generally warmer winter weather in January, has enabled the workers of colonies with larger populations to expand the cluster size, opening up more cells for queen egg laying than might be considered “normal”. This defines February as pivotal because colonies are often living “close to the edge”.
There is an adult age imbalance with more older than younger bees because the Fat bees reared in the fall are now senior citizens. As the weather permits flight, these aging bees use body resources quickly. Fresh pollen to the February hive is highly stimulatory and important to rear critical replacements for dying adults. Unfortunately such expansion, along with the aging bees and clusters in the top brood box, mean less hive flexibility to quickly adjust to changing weather. Colonies less frugal with adult and stored food resources lead to the possibility of failure to survive in the coming two months. Underpopulated colonies, trying to keep expanded brood nests warm, can be lost in a cold, wet weather spell.
Our PNW Loss/Survivorship Survey is also at a “pivotal” junction. This fifth year of data will enable an official analysis of trends and correlations of losses to weather variation. Won’t you join us this year and share your overwintering loss/successes and answer a few questions about your overwintering and mite management? The PNW HONEY BEE SURVEY included over 350 respondents last year. It is simple to fill out. It is available online at pnwhoneybeesurvey.com/survey. We have the website open and ready for your survey responses in April. If you have been looking at your colonies and want to make notes to make filling out the April survey a breeze download the PDF note sheet at pnwhoneybeesurvey.com/notesheet/.
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TWO similar comments –
A- I am not a member of Willamette Valley Bee Association. I accidentally checked it and it wouldn’t uncheck. Using my phone, which is not ideal. Only affiliated with PUB and OSU Master Beeks program.”
B-“Some questions (radio button?) won’t let you remove a response if you’ve incorrectly marked it. It will move through the options, but won’t clear.
RESPONSE – This was an unforeseen bug that goes with the club expansion. In previous years we asked a participants club affiliation and many were troubled that they could only select one. Until we have the manpower to do behind the scenes web development, we are stuck with the options and minor programming that the Google form will allow us to do. Noting the error in the comments like you have done is sufficient for us to correct the error on our end so that it does not affect the reports. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and submitting your correction.
Swarm hive was going strong when I left for Europe mid Oct to mid Nov. When returning there was not one bee, dead or otherwise in the hive. There were a few capped cells with normal bees not yet hatched. Lots of honey storage left. My first hive(2012) was doing fine Jan 7, heavy boxes, lots of bees coming and going on nice days, by Feb 24 there (and still is) are only a few bees left (baseball size cluster), including the queen, but no eggs. The screened bottom board was covered with dead bees on Feb 25 when I could finally get in the hive to see what was going on. I am assuming it is varroa mite, as the frames looked like the one you showed at WVBA during your presentation. The varroa count was low last summer in all hives, so didn’t treat. As a suggestion, it would be nice if we could print this document, so we have a copy of our survey as well. I tried to print this but would only print current page.
RESPONSE – Spring bee colony losses are “normal” for keeping bees – this is when we see colonies die. Varroa is always a good culprit to use when trying to diagnose a bee loss. I did offer paper copies at the WVBA meeting. The reason you could only print a single page is because the survey has “hidden” pages (when do or don’t pop up depending upon your entry response to that section). I recognize it is inconvenient to have only a single page – ask me if we have developed the way to provide this next year and if not you are welcome to use the paper mail in version next season taking a copy for your records prior.
I keep my bees covered from the rain and off the ground with blocks and a piece of plywood on top of the blocks. I also shade from the direct sun in the summer.
RESPONSE – Both are good bee stewardship – thanks for sharing.
At this time I have had 8 swarms as of 4/7/16. I have caught 5. While out of town I call others to come and they got 2. The 8th seemed to know where they were going and escaped successfully. I now have 10 hives.
RESPONSE- sounds like a lot of swarms. Some years the bees just want to reproduce
Treated my two hives with Oxalic acid on January 10th- 55 degrees day. It was so warm early that my main hive was overcrowded by March. I did a split on April 2 and added a queen cell from a local breeder. Doing well as of April 27th Captured 2 swarms on: April 1st, 2016-viable and doing well as of April 27th, 2016 April 10th, 2016-added mature swarm cells on April 20th from main hive to this queenless swarm. Still active but watching for signs that the cell formed a viable queen and she mated. I have not checked since we have had cold rain for the last 3 days with plunging nighttime temperatures. Feeding syrup
RESPONSE – Mid April for queen mating is iffy some years. With queen cell requeening we should have positive signs (eggs at least) within two weeks, three at most. If beyond that then it might be best to combine (if there are enough bees to make it worthwhile). Thanks for sharing – hope that requeening event went well like the earlier one.
Send results and analysis about why I lost my hives
Response – We will send although it will take a bit of time for analysis as we are something near 300 responses this season. Appreciate your and all others who did respond.
I lost a hive that came from my neighbor’s feral hive that was in a barn for years. That hive also died out in March 2016
RESPONSE: Sometimes we see bees doing well on their own – even persisting for years but then they don’t do well when we seek to transfer them and keep them conventionally. The study of Tom Seeley found that bees in tree hollows are different with respect to handling mites than our beekeeper colonies when we keep them at a higher density in one apiary. Thank you for your comment. Dewey
It has been very costly for us on our farm- losing all 6 hives and having to replace them- but we have made a substantial investment in woodenware, time taking the classes etc……we’re all in, but this is difficult.
Response – Loss of 6 hives is indeed heavy. And you are certainly correct that it is a significant loss of time and money. I trust with restarts, if you elect to do so, the loss rate will be reduced this year. Best of luck with them. Thanks for your comment.
My 2nd year hive yielded nearly 3 supers of honey (65#). No honey was harvested from the 1st year hive. Both were moved to my home after the property they were on was sold. Both hives were active for about 1 month then it was apparent that a very large yellow jacket nest was located across the road in my neighbor’s tree (an 18″ bag). The yellow jackets had invaded both nests and all honey bees were dead. I have started one new hive this spring with 3# of bees w/queen. They are very active and I have been supplementing with sugar water. Their upper box was left intact with 6 of the 10 frames full of last year’s honey.
RESPONSE – There are many other critters, certainly Yellow jackets that want to use the resources of a honey bee hive. Sounds like you were able to get some yourself. WELL DONE. First year colonies are not normally able to supply us with surplus. Trust restarted colony goes well this year.