The bees are preparing for winter. Last week I went into the hives to consolidate winter stores and check on the health of the colonies. We have four hives on the institute property and four hives around the village as part of our mite-tolerant breeding program.
The four hives on the institute property were split out this spring from a colony that survived last winter. When I got into the first hive — one in the bee shed — it had plenty of honey but as I went down to the bottom, I found almost no brood — just a few dozen capped cells. I was worried that I lost my queen a few weeks back and didn’t know it. I proceeded to the next hive and found an identical situation. I went on to the long langstroth hives, which also had plenty of honey but almost no brood left. By this point, I was less concerned as I realized that this was probably weather related: all four queens stopped laying in response to dropping temperatures. This was seen on the Island of Gotlund in hives that had developed mite tolerance. By stopping laying, it creates a brood-free period in the hive, and many mites die as they overcrowd the few remaining larvae.
I moved frames of honey from those with more than a dozen to those with less so they were all about equal. I also started feeding a 2:1 :: sugar:water syrup to help give them a bit extra energy going into the winter. They all had very strong populations.
I will note that the bees were extremely ornery and hit my veil so often and with such force that it felt like I was getting rained on. I had planned on doing my last mite count on this visit, but they were so aggressive and there were no nurse bees, so it was not possible.
I did find out the reason they were so aggressive when I went to check on the institute’s study hives. The first of the four hives I went to had not been particularly strong and I was going to start heavy feeding them as winter approached, but to my dismay, I found that they had been robbed out. Neighboring bees had swarmed the hive, gotten past the guards, and taken all their resources. Sometimes wasps do this, but in this case, the pile of dead bees on the bottom board told the story of who was to blame.
This was completely my fault because I didn’t put an entrance reducer on the front of this hive in time to limit the door size that the weak hive had to guard. With a wide-open bottom, the bees were unable to defend their colony’s resources.
The other institute study hives are doing well. They have already formed a tight cluster for the winter to keep the brood warm and I’ve been feeding them sugar as well. I don’t like to feed sugar, but if $15 of sugar saves a colony from running out of food and starving in the winter, it is worth the investment.