Dealing With a Hive That Appears Unlikely to Survive the Winter

October 09, 2018

Dealing With a Hive That Appears Unlikely to Survive the Winter

It’s early October and we have been checking hives to determine their fitness to survive the winter. The second instalment of our two-part video helps explain the process of dealing with a hive that obviously has run into trouble.

The aim is to ensure each hive has enough vigour and food stores to make it through winter in good shape. There are some steps you can take If you have a strong hive that could use a top-up of winter honey stores, replace some of the empty frames with full frames from your top box, or amalgamate some honey frames and bees from a hive that is struggling and unlikely to make it.

If you find you have two hives that seem weak, you can take a boxful of bees from one and set it on top of the box from the other that also has a strong bee population. This amalgamation should give you one strong hive with better odds of surviving winter. Separate the two boxes with newspaper that has holes cut in it. This allows the bees to get used to each other and start to mingle. Make sure all frames in the two boxes are full of honey and-or bees with brood. Any surplus frames with honey should be kept until spring for use as the most efficient feeding method should your bees require it.

In this video we check two hives, one of which has been rather quiet and we suspect there could be a problem. It may however have a few honey frames that could be amalgamated into a stronger hive.

The other hive is really heavy, and is in good shape to be left to overwinter.

Opening up the quieter hive, we see that the summer did not result in the empty frames being filled. So we may have two choices. We can replace the empty frames with full frames. Or if the bee cluster in the bottom is too small, we can just amalgamate the bees with another hive that needs reinforcement .

Opening up the lower box, we can see we have a problem. It could be classic symptoms of the weather getting very cold very quickly, forcing the cluster to draw in very fast. The mostly likely cause in this case is that the bees are queenless. Judging by the amount of honey and propolis, this was a very big colony. It has become small very quickly. The bees are old and are feasting on the last of their honey. It appears we lost the queen too late for them to make a new one. We have “chill brood,” where the bees were not able to keep the brood cells warm.

The best option now is to shake the bees on the ground and let them die (or let them amalgamate with another hive), clean up the hive site and close off entry points to ensure rodents cannot damage equipment, and use any remaining honey frames to augment another hive that is underweight.

You will notice that frames become darker as they are used over successive years. It is best to replace frames on a three to five year rotation, so every year make sure your full-size hives make you at least three or four new frames.

We hope this information is useful to you, and welcome any comments or questions you may have. You will also find more information and all the equipment you need at Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels for all the latest news and tips.  

We're an Alberta-based supplier of everything required for successful beekeeping on the prairies in Western Canada. Whether you are a beginning hobbyist, interested in supplementing your business revenue, or a commercial operator, we've got the bees, the supplies, and the knowledge.

We put education first - you need to know how a bee colony works to enjoy any level of success. We will answer your questions, show you how things are done, and later in 2018 will offer a variety of courses and hands-on demonstrations to make your beekeeping as rewarding as it is fascinating.

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