I received a kind email from a beekeeper in the northeast with several questions. I thought I would include it and my responses as a post this morning. Name and location is removed. Feel free to drop related questions into the comments below.
"Hi John, I am happy I found your website! I am a fairly new beekeeper, entering my third year. I live in [Connecticut] ... I believe, like you, I live on the 41st parallel."
Hi Bob, great to meet you :) I'll comment on your questions/notes below...
"I've lost my (package) hives both years to varroa. Great buildup in spring, but crash by fall or winter."
This would be classic sign of varroa buildup and overload.
"Each year I have had 1 hive that could have been a cell builder, had I known about OTS."
Yes! You got it... every beekeeper should understand this so that they can become self-sustaining.
"I am thinking I need to change course if I am to keep bees alive (without chemicals)."
This is good thinking, and for most, requires some hard knocks and a couple years of losing hives to sink in. One must deal with varroa and pesticides these days ― those are our main enemies. With varroa, one must either outbreed and mitigate some varroa's lifecycle (OTS), use Oxalic or Formic acid (I do sometimes), or both (that is my current plan). I personally have got by with 60-70% survival *just* with OTS and for most that's enough. But, I'd like to see 90% and think I can do so by oxalic acid vapor at the proper time in conjunction with OTS.
"Do you think using packages to start it is possible to do OTS? I'm thinking so long as I have enough brood frames (4+) it should be possible."
Yes, when I moved from the west coast to Ohio about six years ago, that's how I started over again. I prefer to buy nucs to get started, but I didn't know anyone and went with two packages. I sourced some Carniolan packages and started from there. They will build up enough by the end of June to put them through the OTS plan. Two packages could easily be increased to six colonies 30 some days later. You'll want to feed them heavily.
"If so, do you think overwintering nucs is viable or is it better to combine starts to over-winter?"
Yes, I have overwintered 5-over-5 nucs successfully for some years. Stacking them together with good top insulation (foam, etc) does nicely. I personally am working to standardize more and just overwinter single deeps with a sugar rim (creating space to feed sugar blocks on top). Mel Disselkoen states his success over many years overwintering single deeps successfully with OTS if there is 4 frames of brood and 6 of honey by Fall. My own experience bears this out as well.
"I use Layens hives, whose comb surface is roughly 30% larger than a Langstroth deep frame. I have a lot of comb and honey frames from last year."
Interesting. I've not heard of that before. I've read about Brother Adam's findings some time back that suggested larger brood areas were beneficial (in U.K. climate). But, alas, we've standardized on Langstroth here in North America and they do well enough, in my humble opinion.
"Do you have a dearth where you live?"
In the Cleveland, Ohio area here, we have highly fluctuating conditions year-to-year. Some years I pull in nectar all year long, but more often we'll have an August dearth (broadly speaking) until Goldenrod bloom kicks in until first frost.
"Thank you for your time"
You're welcome :)