So last year ended up being quite busy and very fun.
I expanded considerably and eventually went into winter with 7 colonies. I keep my bees treatment free, so hives that cannot manage their varroa levels on their own die off. This is a deliberate plan to breed for healthier bees, but in the short term it means that going into winter can be a bit tense. You never quite know which hives will come out the otherside.
In the final count 4 colonies made it through.
- One hive died early in the winter, but it had been weak anyway for various reasons going into winter, having gone queenless for a period in the Autumn.
- Another died around January time. It had been a booming hive all summer and filled three supers with honey, but its mite population exploded along with the bees. It was a classic varroa/virus loss – lots of honey stores left, but the cluster shrank and winter brood rearing failed.
- The final colony made it through to spring but at some stage went queenless and was unable to requeen themselves. The recent cold weather has delayed the whole season, so even if they tried to replace her she would have been unable to find a mate. I merged the remaining bees into other hives.
The hives that are left have healthy queens which are laying well. They are a bit behind where we would usually like them at this time of year, but I’m putting that down to the cold spell in spring which has suppressed both foraging and brood rearing.
This year my objective is to go into winter with around 18 colonies, most of which will be smaller nucleus hives. I’ll be splitting my survivor colonies, catching local swarms and also raising my own queens. The long term aim is to develop a stock of bees resistant to varroa, which means building to a reasonable size over a number of years and studying my bees to determine which are best at handling the mites.