Questions From a Beekeeper in Connecticut

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.

Cleveland, OH


"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 :)

An Easy, Cost-Effective Method For Weighing Your Bee Hives

A vital part of managing honeybee colonies moving into fall is ensuring they have enough honey and pollen stores moving into winter. Personally, my goal for my full-size colonies is a strong colony housed in two deeps, with the top deep mostly full of honey. 

Later on, as the bees cluster up with cold weather and move through winter, management then should focus on ensuring that the hive does not starve. 

Over time, an experienced beekeeper can ascertain the general weight of a hive by simply handling the box. However, this takes a good deal of experience and can be quite subjective. One needs an objective weight of the hive and a method for tracking that weight through the season. 

With just a bit of searching you can find all manner of scales, tools, and methods for weighing hives. After some research and testing, I decided to approach the need with the following criteria:

  1. The solution needs to be cheap
  2. I need to be able to trust the measurements
  3. The method needs to be scalable to many hives without a big cost increase
  4. I want to spend just a few seconds at each hive
  5. I need to be able to easily track each hive over time

Is this possible? Yes, let me show you how, using just a few eye screws and a $17 luggage scale, some eye screws and duct tape, you can get a general weight of your hive at any time and track it over time.

Supplies needed

To get set up, you'll just need screw eyes like shown (they need to fairly heavy-duty) and a cordless drill to take with you to your hives. Grab a wood bit that's a bit smaller than the diameter of you yes ― you'll need just one eye per hive.

The Luggage Scale

I wanted a small scale that was fairly cheap but had a metal hanger. The scale also needed to handle over 200 lbs many times without breaking. I stumbled across the scale shown in the picture that fit the bill. You can view and order the "Travelon" micro scale on Amazon here.

Getting Set Up

This quite easy ― like the photos show below, take your eye screws, wood bit and drill out to your hives. At the back of each hive, drill a hole in your hive stand (not your hives) in the middle. Insert your screw eye into the hole until it's tight.

How To Measure and Track Each Hive

Now that each hive stand is set up with a screw eye, you are ready to begin regularly weighing and tracking your entire apiary.

It's time to turn on your scale and let it zero...

Next, insert the metal hook into the screw eye at the back of each hive, pull up on the scale until the back edge of the hive is *just* off the ground and wait for a settled measurement, like shown. Then simply double that measurement and you have a *basic* (not an entirely accurate) weight for the hive. 

The weight of 82.8 lbs (41.4 x 2) shown was in Septerm at the beginning of a fall flow of Goldenrod. Our top deeps were not yet full of honey. When they were full, my initial hive weights were around 65-75 lbs on the scale, before doubling. Everyone's equipment and setup is different, so don't go off my measurements alone.

I personally have found Mike Palmer's method for tracking hives in general with duct tape to be invaluable (see more here). After each weight measurement, I simply write down the exact number (without doubling) on the duct tape found on each lid. 

There are some very good reasons for this simple method of tracking. A few I can think of off the top of my head are:

  1. You don't have to bring (or forget) a journal and pen with you to the apiary. All you need is duct tape and a Sharpie in your kit... simple.
  2. This is very quick and weather-proof.
  3. You can quickly get up-to-speed with the historical data for that hive (I'll have more than one strip of duct-tape sometimes) for each hive during the season without again having to consult a journal. This data would include any weight measurements you take and their date.

As you measure all your hives in each location, you'll quickly get a sense of how they are all doing, how they compare to other hives, and which ones are weak and need attention. This is, by the way, another very good reason for having multiple hives in any given location.

So there you have it. A simple, trustworthy, scalable and quick method for weighing your hives. Now... go measure!