Today was a good day to check in with the surviving hives and see how everyone made it through Winter. We’ve had an unusual stretch of beautiful weather here in the mountains of Vermont and I wanted to give the hives some time to enjoy it before I went in and disrupted things. They look great! I did lose a couple hives this Winter, and was able to diagnose the likely causes, which I did close to a month ago, and I’ll go over my thoughts there as well.
The hive in the above picture are my Northern Survivors, from Betterbee just down Lake Champlain on the New York side. They are most likely from the well known Vermont beekeeper Michael Palmer, and are bred from bees that have survived overWintering in Vermont or upstate NY. There is a push to maintain good local genetics and I am glad to be back on track after losing one line that I kept for for 7-8 years. This new nuc was made from splits around June of last year to which I added the purchased queens. I lost one side of the double nuc, which is paired to help conserve the small hives’ heat in the cold season clusters. In that case I suspect the queen was very weak from the beginning. She never laid well and the hive was very small compared to the other going into Winter. Today I removed them from the 4 frame double nucs and put them into 8 frame mediums. I use all mediums… mostly because I broke my back when I was young and deeps stuffed with brood and honey can weigh a ton! But… there is something to be said in cold climates for 8 frames that help direct the bees upward instead of potentially getting stuck without honey stores moving more sideways. So they say.
The hive in the background is a full hive of Saskatraz bees that did amazing. There is still a full box of honey left on top and three mediums of brood, with two fairly full and one about a quarter full. The bottom box being classically empty by now, I switched the boxes and put them empty on top of the brood nest, replaced a few ugly frames and left the stores on top. I will go make some foundation frames and remove the stores next week. There’s more than enough honey in the brood boxes on the sides, as well as incoming nectar and pollen. These Saski bees are well known for prolific laying. I could make a split already if I wanted, and will definitely do so later. This hive is the bee bomb!
As for the hives I lost, the most likely culprit would be varroa, and the associated pathogens that varroa enables. Both hives slowly dwindled over Winter and died in small clusters, with some dysentery toward the very end. Last year I was much more proactive about treatments, and this year I will be even more so. I plan on using formic acid 2-3 times, and an oxalic acid fumigation as late as possible, when the brood have dwindled. It’s a bit of a mystery why one hive would succumb and the other sail through beautifully- same breed, same treatments, both very strong heading into Winter, but there you have it. The current hives look very pest & disease free, but it is early. I did break a line of drone brood in the full hive by splitting the boxes and it was nice to not see any varroa in with the larvae.
I plan on breeding up both these hives as much as possible this year, and I also have another Saski package coming in a couple weeks. That will make three, and my goal is to add 4 overwinter nucs, or two overWinters and another full hive, ending up with 6-7 hives for next Winter. I also want to try some simple queen breeding so I can put the queens I’ve raised straight into the nucs. It should make for a fun Summer.