The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom February 2016

- February 1, 2016 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)

Q Wintering

I have always struggled with this: Do I winter my bees in 2-deep boxes or 3-deep boxes? The winters here in Boise, Idaho aren’t full of snow, but they do get cold.



The rule of thumb Mark for just about as long since Langstroth equipment was adopted is that you have two Langstroth size deep ‘boxes’ to overwinter a honey bee colony in. One of the deeps is considered the brood chamber where the colony is able to provide care and attention to each other and any developing ‘brood’ along this continuum of winter in northern climes from November until April. The other deep box was the honey/food storage area where it was hoped enough honey could be stored for use as food in this Nov. to April period. A deep can hold approx. 50 lbs. of honey which seems to be an anecdotal average of what an average healthy colony will consume over an average winter and until a natural spring nectar flow occurs.

All that to say it is not the number of deep boxes, it is how the deep boxes are used. If you want to use 3 or 4 or more, that is up to you, but the goal is X amount of brood area and X amount of stored honey. That is, in turn, variable based on your location. Florida colony needs are different than Maine from Oklahoma to Idaho and for central California. But two deeps as described is a solid place to start.

Enough stored honey (for energy to create heat) to keep the colony alive is critical, but that is assuming (and you know what happens when you assume) the bees individually and communally are healthy. And, that means in 2015-2016 that you, the beekeeper manager, has done the safe, sane and appropriate Varroa control a couple of months ago in order to help the colony with healthy individual ‘winter bees.’ These winter bees are able to take the stress of life over the next several winter months where they have to live without being replaced like their 6-8 week summer sisters. Without this, the colony will die or be so small in spring that it will not develop and grow. Guaranteed


Jerry, I just found a swarm 30 ft. up in a tree. It is late fall in North Carolina, so I don’t think they will make it through the winter. They’re just under a fork as the tree branches off. I have never seen a swarm this late. I wish I could get up where they are, but they are too high, so there is no way to get them. Why did they do this?



Sometimes the stupid gene expresses itself Tommy. Genes are always testing themselves to see if they bring reproductive value. But in northern climes it is a mistake as we know. If it was in South Florida, it might work. Makes you think nonetheless that life is trying to find a way all the time.

Q Bumblebees

I talked to you a few weeks ago about Africanized honey bees and their current distribution on the mainland. Your answers were very informative and helpful. I have a few more questions for you, if you have the time.

  1. Are many bumblebee species just as efficient pollinators as honey bees?
  2. Can bumblebees vector parasites and pathogens to honey bees? If so, how well?
  3. Are there any honey bee parasites and pathogens (aside from varroa) that can attack bumblebees?

Thank you very much for your time and your help. Have a great day.


  1. There are many ‘bee’ species that individually are much more efficient in pollination than honey bees. However, these species generally are solitary like Osmia or Blue Orchard or thousands of other species. Most maintain very small colonies like bumblebees, 500 at a peak in summer. Then, picking up and relocating the nests of these is difficult or impossible as the bees don’t readjust to the new location. Honey bees are efficient because of redundancy. A colony can have 30,000-50,000 individuals and where each might not be as efficient as other bee species in pollination, having lots of your sisters foraging on the same flowers as you makes up for it. Then, of course, you can pick up a honey bees nests (hives), put them onto on a semi-truck and move them hundreds or thousands of miles, unload them and they readjust quickly and start doing what honey bees do. You can do it next week, and the next and the next. There is a tremendous advantage for this truly managed and manageable insect—our honey bee!
  2. Think of a door knob in your office or the shopping cart handle at the grocery store–all the hands that have touched them and transferred various types of bacteria, fungus, virus and maybe even human mites. Ugh…icky. Stuff you can pick up and ‘catch’. Now think of a flower as a door knob—all the different pollinators that may have visited that individual flower and left behind bacteria, fungus, virus, mites and who knows what behind. Varroa mites can ride around on a bumblebee from one flower to another and to the bumblebees’ nest, but cannot reproduce on bumblebees. But, bumblebees and honey bees can share other pathogens that they can pick up from interaction in the environmen
  3.  Take a look at these links Chris. They should help answer your question about shared honey bee and bumblebee pathogens &


I am a newer beekeeper, going on 4 years now. I enjoy this hobby and the constant quest for new information. I read ABJ cover to cover and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning each time I arrive at my mailbox and find the newest edition of this journal waiting to be read.
Last month in your column you explained to ‘Bob’ that “honey bee workers do eat eggs and larvae, but don’t move them.”

Well, at my local bee guild meeting in rural Ontario I overheard a discussion about whether workers do in fact…