Brent Roberts (Caledon, Ontario, Canada, about 15 miles due north of the Toronto Int. Airport.)
The beehvies in their temporary home beside the chicken container.
Last years largest colony is on the right. The others are the new Russian bees with various feeders to help them start building.
When they reach full strength there will be nearly 1/2 million bees.
This is only my second year keeping bees.
Last winter I got enthusiastic about the characteristics of Russians
so I ordered 6 nucs and 3 queens from Francois Petit of Pilgrim Honey
House. Here is the link to the Breeder
of Russians where I got the bees ( http://www.igs.net/~pilgrimventures/The_Russian_Bee_Project.htm)
He is working very actively with
the Ontario Beekeepers Association and their Tech Transfer Team and
is highly regarded in the community for his efforts. He has been very
supportive of my work and even though I have not had good luck with my
first bees from him.
Compared to the Carni/Italian mix bees I had the first year, these were a disappointment in just about every aspect. They are feisty. I have never been able to work them without a full suit and gloves. Any knocking or scraping on the hive or frames sets them off instantly. Several of the nucs came with Chalkbrood and the first weeks were spent trying to clean up that mess. I think partially because of the Chalkbrood and perhaps other causes I did not recognize, the colonies grew at wildly different rates. The strongest one swarmed 3 weeks after we got them, and what was left behind was still a strong hive. Most important of the reasons for getting them waste hygienic behaviour. I regret I got very pre-occupied with other farming type duties through July and August and did not give the bees much attention. Furthermore I put the hives ( Beemax polystyrene ) on the new VIZ plastic bottoms. These bottoms are a disaster. The screen in the center is much too small, only about 4" x 8" and the word screen does not apply very well. It is a plastic grid with flat tops. Needless to say falling mites had about an 80% chance of not getting to or going through the screen and into the collection tray. When I figured this out I ordered some Apinovar boards and then some from Country Rubes. These are full sized screened bottoms with full sized trays. Instantly I saw I had mite problems. I started fogging with FGMO and thymol and saw the drop rates increase, but after 3 weeks the drop rates were not going down so I started with Oxalic Acid vaporization. The drop rate in the worst hive went from 200 to 300 per day to over 3000. I have documented each days count with comments and notes on an Excel Spread Sheet at www.hhrobertsmachinery.com/private/mites.xls. Interestingly the largest mite counts are also coming from the hives that have the largest population and the best stores for the winter. Hive number 5, that has dropped over 15,000 mites in a few weeks is 2 deeps and one medium almost full. It's ability to fight off diseases etc through the winter will be interesting. Currently I am feeding pollen patties and sugar syrup and will switch to HFCS with Honey Bee Healthy in the next few days. Mostly I want to build up the weakest hives but I will feed all of them. I'd love to get them to produce a few hundred new bees that went through the larval stage without mites.
After doing a lot of reading of bees and wintering problems I came to the conclusion about a year ago that cold did not kill bees. Sustained cold killed them. The cluster sits over one are and eats everything in sight and if the hive is too cold, it refuses to move even a few inches to get to food, and starves. My single hive then was made by David Eyre who has a great design. It is a square hive that takes shorter than standard frames. The hive has an inner cover with screened vent holes and feeding holes in it. Then an upper "attic" that is essentially a medium box with screened vents in the sides to the outdoors. The holes are offset vertically. The top cover has about a 2" apron all around the outside. In the summer the "attic" is set with the vent holes fully exposed. In the winter the attic is inverted and when the top cover is placed on it significantly but not completely restricts the air flow. David gets phenominal honey crops with these hives, reaching 300 to 400 lbs a year. He has a very small number users ( I am an ex-user ) most likely because of his off standard size so nothing else in the world will fit his hives. He had no screened bottom board available for example. Any, to counter the cluster starvation theory of mine I got pink styrofoam insulation board from home depot and fabricated an second skin for the hive, cutting an upper entrance vent and stopping the upper edge just short of the upper cover so the attic vents would still work. The hive was quite strong in December. The fit of the pink styrofoam was not making good contact with the hive outer walls so when the real cold and snows hit I further insulated by getting a roll of plumber's insulation wrap at Home Depot. This stuff is silvered mylar skins with a bubble wrap core. I wrapped the hive with this. I got some of the same temperature probes you used and one on the top of the frames, right above the cluster. I kept a small feeder on the top of the inner cover and the temps inside were almost always warm enough that the feeder was active all year. Only when the outside temperature got to -20 deg C did they cluster up and stop feeding. In February I started adding pollen patties. By the time I opened the hive in the beginning of April it was so full I thought they were going to swarm by April 15. Maybe it was all beginner's luck but it worked spectacularly. This year all the hives are Beemax. I trashed the Beemax bottoms because the screened area was too small to get the best kill/drop ratio for mites. If you want to try a great bottom, get one from Country Rubes. This winter I have ordered in a second cover from Beemax for each hive. I drilled a couple of vent holes that I put screens on. Then another hole for the hive top feeder and finally about a 4" square hole with #8 mesh to feed the pollen patties through. I'll leave the square hole covered till feeding of pollen starts in February. I still want to wrap the hives but I need better control of air flow and condensation. I have traced water inside the hives to leakage between the Beemax boxes. With a wide open opportunity the Beemax folks really dropped the ball on this. They could have easily moulded in a lip to stop water seepage.