Small Clusters

Discussion in 'Beekeeping 101' started by Eddy Honey, Dec 24, 2012.

  1. Eddy Honey

    Eddy Honey New Member

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    I fed some of my hives yesterday (hard candy) and noticed a few of my nucs have baseball/softball sized clusters.

    I placed the candy where the bees at the top of the cluster could get to it without having to move.

    What is the smallest sized cluster anyone has seen make it through an average mid-Atlantic winter?
     
  2. PerryBee

    PerryBee New Member

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    I had one hive make it through and by spring there was only a frame and a half of bees. Being that small this time of year is a different story though. If your nucs are in small boxes they may do OK.
     

  3. ApisBees

    ApisBees Active Member

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    Insulate the hive against the cold cause that is what will kill them if they haven't enough bees to maintain their winter cluster temperature. You could remove the hive cover of a full size colony and place two nucs on top so they benefit from the heat generated by the large colony.
     
  4. Omie

    Omie Active Member

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    Someone near me a couple of years ago had a cluster that was the size to fill a coffee cup...like a a small orange, in the beginning of winter, and it survived and did very well the following year. Certainly that was unusual, but I know it to be true and it really happened. That would be two or three hours north of you.
     
  5. riverrat

    riverrat New Member

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    some bees naturally overwinter in smaller clusters espescially in smaller younger hives
     
  6. lazy shooter

    lazy shooter New Member

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    Last year one of my hives had a cluster about the size of a softball. They lived through the winter and built up a 10 frame deep and a 10 frame medium before our drought set back in again. Of course, we don't have cold winters. There will be shirt sleeve days in January and February. It is unusual to have a freeze that lasts more than one day.
     
  7. cheezer32

    cheezer32 New Member

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    A smaller cluster can make it through the winter, one thing to keep in mind was the tempature when you were checking the hive. Bees can cluster suprising tight when it starts to get cold and there might be more bees there than it seems. To me the biggest fear with small cluster is prolonged cold, while they might be able to get through a night or couple days of cold, if it starts to persist for 3+ days you run the chance of them not being able to move to get honey and starving with honey still in the hive.

    I am overwintering mini mating nucs (3 half length deep frames) this year for the first time, so I would imagine they might have roughly the same about of bees and cluster sizes? So far they look great for this winter, and I have wintered a few similar sized hives/cluster in the past, so it can be done. If the cluster is really small the situation might need some help from you if there to make it... or it might not. I hope they will be alive for you next spring either way!
     
  8. riverrat

    riverrat New Member

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    This has my interest. Can you help us out and explain some ways that you can help a cluster in the winter.
     
  9. lazy shooter

    lazy shooter New Member

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    The one thing that comes to my novice mind is what I have read on this forum and others is simply to keep feed directly above the cluster so that the bees do not have to break their cluster to eat.
     
  10. cheezer32

    cheezer32 New Member

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    riverrat: Remember what I say is only my opinion on the matter and isn't the only way or necessarily the "right" way to it.

    Before deciding on helping the hive you need to determine why the cluster is so small, and see if it's really a hive that you want to save. If the hive was a very late split, queenless late in the year, or in a position that the beekeeper may have put it in then I would say do what you can to save it. However if the hive was suspect of disease, or very poor genetics... you may be better off just letting the hive perish.

    Once you have figured that it is a hive you are willing to save a few different options come to mind for helping it along. I am going to assume that by nucs eddy honey means 5 frame deep or medium hives (you never know for sure what people are referring to now a days... terms are very interchangeable). Which I'm also going is the smallest size boxes he has to use.

    Food: I would make sure the bees has constant direct access to food, (Candy is fine, I personally am a fan of just plain dry sugar) if you have a candy rim or board that is great, if not stack another empty box on top and pour a 5 lb. bag of sugar over some newspaper, or add some candy. Adding a large amount that will last is better than constantly coming back and adding smaller amounts in my opinion.

    If your able to, another method I have used in the past is to mix up some VERY VERY thick syrup, as much sugar as you can fit in, pull empty frames bring them inside and fill them with syrup (I've also filled them with dry sugar and misted the surface so it stays in the cells)

    Another option is to screened up the entrance to the nuc, bring it inside where its warm enough for the bees to move for 3-5 days and feed syrup HEAVY. This in combination with the above idea lets the bees re-arrange stuff to a small degree and hopefully cluster in a suitable location with plenty of food. I try not to take them from inside the house directly to sitting in the snow outside though, fearing to rapid a temperature change and bees dieing inside the hive from not having enough time to cluster back up. For this reason I usually go from my basement, to the garage for a day (which is cold enough to have them form a lose cluster but not as cold as outside temps) to sitting in the snow outside. Another thing to remember is the syrup WILL cause moisture problems so make sure to address that if the nuc is really sealed up tight via proper vent holes, upper entrance etc. one of the reasons I prefer the dry sugar and candy is you can avoid this. Also if you bring them inside don't let it be for too long, with the bees being active the fill their guts up and dysentary and other problems have a chance of setting in. so a few days at most and get them back outside so they can cluster and take cleansing flights on the first chance they get.

    Heat: If you have more than one nuc (which it sounds like you do) what I would do is make a 2 nuc group, put the weak nuc in the middle facing on way, and to other nucs pressed up against the side with the entrance facing the other direction. This gives the hive much less surface area to the cold, along with providing heat and wind protection through the other 2 nucs. Even if you don’t have extra live hives 2 boxes can accomplish much the same goal. Personally I don’t wrap or insulate any more, but if you want to that is another measure that can be taken, remember to have somewhere for moisture to escape!


    Remember these are just my ideas on the matter, others have given good info and thoughts as well.
     
  11. Omie

    Omie Active Member

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    My own approach is this-
    (Assuming it's too late to combine any small hives, and assuming they have enough honey to survive the winter on)...

    I simply insulate between the top cover and the inner cover, and I'd have a small upper entrance/ventilation hole to prevent deadly condensation moisture. Then I'd apply some sort of windbreak (tarpaper wrap, or straw bales stacked up around the windy side of the hive, etc). I personally don't believe in feeding bees syrup, sugar, fake pollen, or candy during the winter. Tough love here at Wayward Girl Apiaries. :cool:

    After the above measures, i'd let them survive the winter on their own...or not.
    If they survive then you know you'll want to raise more queens from that hardy genetic line! If they die then they were too weak for some reason, or just not a good strain of bees for your area.
     
  12. Eddy Honey

    Eddy Honey New Member

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    This is a good conversation with some good points.
    I had 9 nucs. Seven are in 5 frame nuc bodies with screened bottoms, and two are in 10 frame single hive bodies on solid bottom boards. Those 2 died. Upon inspection of both dead-outs I saw differences.
    The late November dead nuc had all the bees dead on the bottom board and the late Dec. dead hive had all the bees stuck in cells head first with just the tip of their tales hanging out. It's amazing how far they can get into those cells.
    I insulated the hives this morning and they have candy touching the top of the cluster.

    With regard to feeding vs not feeding I can't help but refer to the story told by Ormond and Harry Aebi. They found a cluster in May of 1972 in the cornfield consisting of a fertile queen and 30 workers. They fed that hive to get it through the winter and in September of 1974.....404 lbs of wildflower honey, a new world record, was harvested. So since this is a late split I at least want to give them a chance at a full season to see what they are capable of doing.

    A good learning experience nonetheless but I dis-like losing bees. These are my first losses ever.

    Four nucs are light (small clusters) and 3 have good populations and look promising.
     
  13. ApisBees

    ApisBees Active Member

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    Eddy with late splits how much capped brood did you transfer with the bees when you made up the nucs? I ask because the mortality rate on the transferred bees will be high due to the fact most were summer forager bees. You needed to be feeding both syrup and pollen to keep the bees and queen stimulated so a hole new generation of bees could emerge to provide the winter bees that had a long enough life span to survive into spring to start raising new bees.
    Don't mean to sound preachy here but 1. Your winter cluster is only going to be as big as the amount of brood that emerges in the fall It doesn't mater how many bees were in the hive in the beginning of September. 2 The life span of a bee correlates with the amount of work the bees preform over their life. Active summer bees live 6 week, winter inactive bees can live 6 months. With fewer bees in the colony the workload of each bee increases resulting in a shorter life and fewer bees.
    With small clusters stimulant feeding in the early spring is not effective cause there is not enough bees to support and keep the brood warm. The larger colonies on the other hand if stimulated with syrup and pollen will start raising early brood and new bees. When the weather breaks if you get the nucs thru, brood and bees from the stronger colonies can be added to the small nucs. Hoping you can pull the remaining nuc thru. It's discouraging to to do all the work of getting queens and making them up only to lose them in the spring.
    One more question where the nucs made with mated queens, queen cells, or let to raise their own queens
     
  14. Eddy Honey

    Eddy Honey New Member

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    Thanks Apis,

    They were laying pretty good through September and I thin I gave them some sealed brood from my big hives that month also.

    I've done what I can do for them and will hope for the best. I'll still have plenty of hives to play with regardless with 7 big hives, a cutout to do this Spring and the 2 Russian nucs I've secured in April.
    It'll really be something though if I can get these nucs through to Spring. We're having a much more "normal" winter for S. Jersey than we did last year so this will be a good gauge.