When we asked two of our expert beekeepers to write about getting hives ready for winter, they both mentioned the newspaper method for combining hives. This concept unto itself is important, so here is what they shared.
From Master Beekeeper Kent:
If the poor colony is joined with another hive, then this “destination” hive should be a strong, healthy colony with plenty of food stores. When two marginal hives are joined, the end product is a large, marginal, hive. Even when a poor is combined with a strong, the new, resulting hive must be checked occasionally to make certain it is not getting short on food.
It may seem cruel to some, but in joining the two colonies, the queen from the poor hive should be killed, then the poor hive placed above a sheet of newspaper on top of the “good” hive. Of course, the bottom board should be removed from the “poor” hive prior to joining with the “good” hive. Do not attempt to combine hives using the newspaper method when the daytime temperature will be above 90 degrees. The result may be an upper hive-body full of cooked bees due to a lack of ventilation.
The principles for combining hives are:
Always combine weak with strong.
Make sure the new hive has ample food stores – but does not become honeybound.
Combining the hives earlier, rather than later, in the season gives the new hive plenty of time to organize the brood nest and food stores.
Try to keep the queen productive until frost. If a colony requires feeding after frost, the best option is to feed by using a candy board. The candy should be placed directly on top of, and form a seal above, the cluster. This will allow the condensation from the bees’ respiration to soften the candy, making it accessible for the cluster.
From Sean Burgess, former Kentucky State Apiarist
How and why to use the newspaper combine method:
Combining weak colonies with strong colonies – occasionally you will have a colony that just won’t do well for one reason or another. Perhaps the queen was not properly mated and she has a spotty brood pattern. Maybe it’s late in the season and a split or a swarm capture has limited or no resources for buildup. In any event, you feel the colony doesn’t stand a reasonable chance for overwintering. It would be reasonable, in my opinion, to combine this colony with a strong queenright colony that has adequate stores to support a merge.
Curing a laying worker situation – when a hive goes queenless you run the risk of developing laying workers. For whatever reasons, the bees don’t have larvae of the proper age to develop a new queen. Sometimes one or more workers will take it upon themselves to begin laying eggs. This is evidenced by seeing only drone brood, (workers can only lay unfertilized eggs), multiple eggs per cell, and a decline in the population of your bees. You may also notice a discontented hum coming from the hive and sometimes increased aggression. If steps are not taken to correct this, the colony is doomed.
Whatever the reasons for merging hives, I recommend the newspaper combine, which has been very successful for me.
When you are merging a weak colony with a strong colony, you must first find the queen in the weak colony and “dispatch” her.
Next I will take two sheets of black and white newspaper and cut them to fit tightly inside of a hive body. Taking the newspaper to the strong colony, I place these sheets on the top of the stack directly in contact with the frames. Using some kind of sharp instrument I will cut about 7-8 slits about 2″ long in the paper between the top bars of the frames below, stretching across the entire box.
Next I will take the weak colony (box and frames) and put it above the strong colony and close it up and leave it alone for about three days. When I go back, in almost all cases, I will find the newspaper has been chewed and some removed from the hive. The bees should be behaving normally and moving around the hive freely. Now the rest of the newspaper should be removed from the hive. Depending on the time of year and the nectar flow you may split this colony later.
In the case of laying workers, I want the colony below to be really strong and have a good pattern of capped and open brood. I will do the newspaper on top of the strong colony the same as for the weak colony merge. The difference is there is no queen to find and kill. Laying workers look just like other workers and are almost impossible to find. Set the laying workers on top of the strong colony and wait again for about three days before opening. It is thought that the smell of the pheromones from the open brood below will dry up the ovaries of the laying workers. This colony can also be split later if the season warrants it. My success rate is 100% using this method so far.