From our previous video and blog, What Should Your Brood Nest Look Like in the Fall?, we stated the importance of a strong hive. However, what do you do if you have a weak hive? You have done everything in your power to help your colony, however something in your gut is telling you that this hive may not make it through the winter.
Some signs of a weak hive may be a small population of bees by the end of September. The hive needs to have a big enough cluster to survive the winter, which is approximately 6 to 8 full frames of bees. You might notice wasps and other pests trying to enter your hive if you have a low amount of bees. Robbing of honey stores may occur, which will further deplete your colony's strength.
You may wonder how the hive became weak and what factors played into its decline. One of the top reasons is pesticides. Most of the bees forage on farm land and in orchards where farmers rely on chemicals to keep their crops healthy. Once the bees are exposed to the chemical they take it back to the hive, which can in turn affect the rest of the colony, including the queen. A weak queen or a queenless hive can also cause your colony to decline. If a queen is not laying properly or if she dies and the beekeeper doesn’t catch it in time, chances are you will not be able to replace the queen, as it will be too late in the season or the cluster will be too small even if you manage to introduce a new one. In all of these circumstances it is up to the beekeepers best judgement as to how they would like to proceed next.
The option is to combine a weaker hive with a stronger hive. Combining hives may give a higher chance of survival throughout winter. You will then have a stronger hive in spring and will be able to split it much sooner. The best way to combine two hives is to put one super with bees from the weaker hive on top of the stronger hive. In order to prevent fighting between the two colonies use a newspaper or paper towel between the two. This will allow for the two colonies to get used to each other and begin to communicate. You can refer to this video for more information.
It could be that both your colonies are weak, with one needing a bit more of a boost than the other. What you could do is still combine, but ensure that although weak they have right things going on in both. Move all brood to the bottom box and all honey above. Then unite with the newspaper.
The other option is to use the stores and capped brood from one to the weaker hive to boost the other. This will give it a better chance of surviving the winter. You would need to shake off the bees from the hive you’re sacrificing before donating any frames to the other one. The bees you’ll shake will either die or drift to the colony on their own. For more information on how to do this, see our blog, Dealing With a Hive That Appears Unlikely to Survive the Winter.
In a perfect world all colonies would be strong enough to make it through winter, but as beekeepers it is up to us to make the tough decisions on how to best help our colonies. We hope to equip you with the knowledge you need to give your hives the best chance at surviving through the winter.
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