After our mild January the colder February is better for our bee colony overwintering in order to slow colony expansion.
Once the weather warms check on food stores by hefting at the back. It is too early to feed syrup as we do not want to stimulate or add to moisture stress.
If you feel the hive is short in required food you could consider feeding a homemade sugar brick until it warms up enough for syrup. Make a sugar brick by mixing a small amount of water to make a thick slurry of cane/beet sugar and letting it stand overnight to solidify. An alternative would be to feed drivert (confectioners) sugar but do not use brown sugar or any sugar that contains starch.
Peek quickly under the lid & below covers for water staining or sign of excess moisture in the hive. If seen, consider using some form of absorption filler material aka quilt box for the remainder of damp months or plan for this addition to next year’s wintering set up.
Clean bottom boards to clear the path for new bees and save them some labor (& honey store energy). This could be something as simple as brushing clear with a down feather for now until the temperatures are above 60 degrees and it’s safe to physically open the hive long enough to “change the underwear”.
The 12th annual Pacific Northwest Honey Bee Loss Survey will open up EARLY this year on March 15th and be available until May 1st. Please consider downloading and filling out the note sheet to aid in quick survey entry. Many have found that this simple resource has been key to have on hand in the bee yard throughout the year not only to track items but to remind of alternative bee husbandry options.
Lastly, if you would like an email reminder when the survey opens please visit https://pnwhoneybeesurvey.com/resources/reminder/ today.
We hope to see great health in our PNW honeybees and fellow beekeepers this spring!
Q – Both of my hives were well until mid-March. One has started to collapse. I am trying to save it but my hopes are not high. As of the end of March, it’s still alive.
A – We find some colonies that barely survive until the spring but then do not recover and die in late spring – We do the survey in April to enable respondents to include this information. If it is too cool or the bees are not heavily fed sugar syrup they can not reverse the decline. The survey was started early this year as the bees started early. You can amend the survey if this colony doesn’t make it and you left an email previously for us to link it with.
Q – Attempted Treatment Free management on half the colonies, lost most of the TF colonies. 245 in fall, 130 in spring = 47% loss
A – Here is the information for the research. This was TF study form Sweden – it took 5 years – with heavy looses each year until there was (and it is continuing) better survival without treatment for varroa mites: Abstract (Of Bond Method study): An isolated honey bee population (N = 150) was established on the southern tip of Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea. After infestation with 36 to 89 Varroa destructor mites per colony, they were unmanaged and allowed to swarm. For over six years colonies were monitored for swarming, winter losses, infestation rate in the fall, and bee population size in the spring. Winter mortality rate decreased from 76% and 57% in the third and fourth years, to 13% and 19% in the fifth and sixth years. Swarming rates increased from zero the third field season to 57.1% and 36.4% in the last two years. The mite infestation on adult bees decreased during the last two years, from 0.47% in the third year to 0.19% and 0.22% respectively. Our data suggest that a host-parasite co-adaptation has occurred ensuring survival of both the host and the parasite.Article in Apidologie 2006 by Fries, Imdorf and Rosenkrantz https://www.researchgate.net/publication/42384375_Survival_of_mite_infested_Varroa_destructor_honey_bee_Apis_mellifera_colonies_in_a_Nordic_climate • NOTE A recent PLoS one paper (Dec 2018) by Srinivas, Locke, Granberg and de Miranda in their introduction stated this about the Gotland Bond method study bees: The Gotland mite-resistant honeybee population exhibits a number of relevant colony level mite-resistant traits, such as small colony size  and reduced mite reproductive success, that together limit the mite population growth relative to mite susceptible colonies [30,31], leading to considerably lower mite infestation rates, especially towards the end of the season .One of the more recent findings from this population was a tolerance to DWV, since colonies of the Gotland population survive with high DWV infection levels that are otherwise lethal to mite-susceptible honeybees . Additionally, the Gotland mite-resistant honeybees appear to be resistant to other honeybee-infecting viruses such as Black queen cell virus (BQCV) and Sacbrood virus (SBV), which diminish by several orders of magnitude before the critical wintering phase of the honeybee life cycle https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0206938 [numbers refer to citations]
Q – I live near agriculture, and I suspect sprays are used that are harmful to bees. I wish (our club) and other beekeeping organizations would more actively advocate for organic farming instead of bowing to the chemical industries.
A – Sorry to hear of your heavy losses. The whole topic of agricultural sprays and their effects on our bees is a complex topic. Loses are chronic (bit by bit over time) – not acute (sudden loss) – and it is so difficult to document. When we sample we find on average over 5 pesticides in our bees – but 1/2 are the chemicals beekeepers use inside their be colonies for varroa mite control. I would suggest that you recommend (your club) put topic on their meeting schedule. For back ground information check out the Podcast from Xerces in Portland OR at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMSYKupuI8M. The 2nd in this series will be very specific about pollinating insects
The PNW loss survey is now available and will be open through April at https://pnwhoneybeesurvey.com/survey/. I trust your bees got through the Ides of March cold spell. If you entered data and something changes you can re-enter using same email and make changes – we CAN still lose colonies. Sugar is tough to find; if bees are able to get out there is a good bloom available but don’t neglect colonies that need supplemental feeding. Thanks for remaining the vital part of this research tool – Dewey
Q – I feel that the very cold/snowy Feb-mid March was very hard on my bees. In late Jan, 5/6 were alive and had good food stores. By early March, only 1/6 were alive. Moisture was a problem too.
A – February was cold and wet but March temperatures were averaging 10 degrees below normal until the one nice week we had (3rd week). However for bees, whatever the temperature, the time after they start brood rearing (in January usually) until they have consistent forage conditions (often not until April) is a critical time and we lose too many colonies during this period. March can be a very “cruel” month for bees and their keepers.