Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto
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  1. #1
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    Default Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Been trying to find a pattern to hives making it through winter and slowly a pattern is starting to emerge.
    This is for me and my small hobby apiary in WI. I'm not saying it's what works or doesn't work for you.

    10 things that I'm hoping will help me in the future:
    This should be #1 of the pattern, but starting with a good local winter hardy queen stock will start the process on the right track

    1. Effective mite control before winter bee brood are even capped. Start in August after honey flow. Leads to healthy winter bees emerging and lasting the winter.
    2. Does not seem to matter the size of the colony, double 10 frame deeps full of honey have a low % of survival regardless of size of the winter cluster. Bees will not move off of brood to get to honey and will starve, so smaller space is more effective to keep the cluster in contact with food. I found a single or single and medium super work much better than a double deep 10 frame hive.
    3. Nucs have a better chance of survival as long as you have enough food over them. 3 boxes seem to work best. Smaller box seems to keep cluster able to always stay in contact with food stores.
    4. Colony size matters. If you have a weak or small colony, don't even bother wasting your time and resources trying to get them through winter....when it gets a long cold snap end of Jan/Feb, you will lose them. Combine with another smaller colony early to get at least one thru the winter.
    5. Weigh hives in fall to target their honey heading into winter and feed as needed.
    6. Keep a sugar brick above the colony. (for me a candy board) When the colony reaches the top they will always have food above them and if there is brood, they can still cluster under and will be in contact with food.
    7. Good venting is needed, but too much is not good. Top and bottom small vents/exits are good. guard for mice!!
    8. Adequate (IMO at least 1 1/2") of foam board insulation covering the ENTIRE top of the hive under the lid is needed to keep thermal shock from causing condensation over the bees.
    9. Wrap with your choice of tar paper/reflectix/board insulation or at minimum tape box seams.
    10. Check on bees monthly to make adjustments as needed.
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Some of the things I do. I can agree with all that you said.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    If you are in an area with heavy snowfall, a bottom plus a top entrance or at least a screened vent is a good idea. Very often a snowed in colony will melt some breathing space around itself and survive but a well insulated hive in drifted snow may not melt much around itself. They can suffocate if that happens when there is no upper venting.

    Areas with very long winters can accumulate a lot of dead bees on bottom board, that along with dripped condensation ice, can quite effectively block a bottom entrance. I have seen reference to using a 3" spacer box or an empty medium with an entrance hole, underneath the brood box (boxes) as a place the dropped bees can accumulate.
    Frank

  5. #4
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    Chicago, ILL. USA
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Solid list. Although I prefer to overwinter in 3 boxes whenever possible.

  6. #5
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    Fox Lake Il
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Great list Kevin. Thank you. 3 of my 4 hives survived so far, All in double 10 frame deeps. BUT they are all now out of honey. I have been feeding commercial winter patties. My question is can I switch to just commercial pollen patties? I am in zone 5 and still have at least 4 weeks of cold weather. Too cold for syrup. Thank you. I also wrap hives in Bee Cozy's and use slatted racks.

  7. #6
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    jackson county, alabama, usa
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    kevin, i moved your thread to this new subforum. many thanks for the suggestion!
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Nice list Kevin.

    What seemed to help me the most with overwintering success was the addition of insulation on the cover. You can do everything else right and have a strong colony in place, but if moisture condenses on the cover or inner cover and drips down on the bees they are toast.

    Insulated covers are best, but I simply place a 2" foam board on top of the cover and anchor it down with a block. Under that is a feeder rim and sugar blocks. It's enough to insulate the cover from outside temperatures and keeps the underside of the cover above the bees warmer than the box walls. It's enough of a temperature difference where I might see condensation form on the inside wall of the boxes and run down, but moisture never condenses on the cover.

    I never wrap the hives, but I'm not as far north as you are. If the bees stay dry they can handle quite a bit and come out strong in the spring.
    To everything there is a season....

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    kevin, i moved your thread to this new subforum. many thanks for the suggestion!
    Thanks for pursuing my suggestion and pushing it up the ladder. Appreciated.
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    Nice list Kevin.

    What seemed to help me the most with overwintering success was the addition of insulation on the cover. You can do everything else right and have a strong colony in place, but if moisture condenses on the cover or inner cover and drips down on the bees they are toast.

    Insulated covers are best, but I simply place a 2" foam board on top of the cover and anchor it down with a block. Under that is a feeder rim and sugar blocks. It's enough to insulate the cover from outside temperatures and keeps the underside of the cover above the bees warmer than the box walls. It's enough of a temperature difference where I might see condensation form on the inside wall of the boxes and run down, but moisture never condenses on the cover.

    I never wrap the hives, but I'm not as far north as you are. If the bees stay dry they can handle quite a bit and come out strong in the spring.
    Thanks.

    Foam board is susceptible to deterioration from UV rays from the sun, which is why I prefer to put the foam board UNDER the lid. Under that is the inner cover with the holes blocked off (bees seem to love to burrow insulation so duct tape the holes or cover with 1/4" plywood is recommended. Foil backed foam board is ok to be in the sun.
    Under the inner cover is whatever feeder shim you choose to use.
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

  11. #10
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    Greenwood, WI, USA
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    I`m going through my first winter with bees.( 2 colonies) I treated with Apivar starting in late July. 1 1/2 inch of stryrafoam under telescoping cover, wrapped in tar paper, upper entrance, bottom entrance wide open with 1/2 hardware cloth for a mouse guard. I didn`t put any emergency feed on top. Last Thursday I opened them up for the first time. 1st one was packed full of bees. I gave them a pollen patty and a winter patty and closed them back up. 2nd one just had a cluster the size of my fist and I couldn`t find the queen. I went through the frames and cleaned them up. No sign of any disease, no brood at all. Lots of honey. I think I found another advantage to the tar paper. When I snowshoed out to shovel out the bottom entrance a few weeks ago , the snow was melted about 6 inches around the bottom of both hives. I have them on a 2 way pallet , side by side. I probably won`t change anything next year except I want to put up a 6 foot high wood privacy fence around the west , north and east sides for a wind break. The hive that didn`t make it was on the west side and probably caught the brunt of that west wind. I was disappointed that one didn`t make it, but I guess it could have been worse. I`m a hour west of you Kevin.
    Zone 4a

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by alf1960 View Post
    I think I found another advantage to the tar paper. When I snowshoed out to shovel out the bottom entrance a few weeks ago , the snow was melted about 6 inches around the bottom of both hives. I have them on a 2 way pallet , side by side. I probably won`t change anything next year except I want to put up a 6 foot high wood privacy fence around the west , north and east sides for a wind break. The hive that didn`t make it was on the west side and probably caught the brunt of that west wind. I was disappointed that one didn`t make it, but I guess it could have been worse. I`m a hour west of you Kevin.
    Snow was melted around my hives as well...I don't use tarpaper, I use reflectix....but if you notice trees absorb heat and it melts around trees also....bees radiate heat which melts snow.

    Sorry to hear about your queen....pretty early to be pulling frames though....cold I mean...

    What is your winter configuration? two deeps? deep/super? double nuc box? Singles?
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    It was 55 that Thursday, but I only pulled the frames in the hive that was obviously not going to make it. Barely a fist full of bees. I had a medium and a deep for a brood box and had 3 supers of honey on top for stores. Overkill I know, but it was given to me.
    Zone 4a

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by KevinWI View Post

    This should be #1 of the pattern, but starting with a good local winter hardy queen stock will start the process on the right track

    Does not seem to matter the size of the colony, double 10 frame deeps full of honey have a low % of survival regardless of size of the winter cluster. Bees will not move off of brood to get to honey and will starve, so smaller space is more effective to keep the cluster in contact with food. I found a single or single and medium super work much better than a double deep 10 frame hive.

    I think these two items you have listed are intertwined. I can winter with essentially the same success in a double deep, deep/medium or single deep assuming I have at least an adequate cluster size to begin with and that there are ample stores for that cluster. IF you really want to get to the problem with number of boxes you are wintering in and how the cluster moves/responds, that goes to genetics and your first statement regarding local stock. There's a lot to be said for a stock that environmentally regulates and isn't producing brood when there are not resources coming in--needs less overall stores to begin with, won't start to brood up and then get caught in a weather reversal and be forced to eat and remove brood, will normally not require large or prolonged feeding. The downside is that such colonies will be slower out of the gate in the spring but once they do take off you'll be pressed to keep up with them. Its a balance to find what works for you. Personally, if the winter doesnt end a colony that is trying to raise substantial amounts of brood when nothing is coming in, then I cull them out myself as soon as the weather breaks.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlackBirds View Post
    Personally, if the winter doesnt end a colony that is trying to raise substantial amounts of brood when nothing is coming in, then I cull them out myself as soon as the weather breaks.
    I wont. Bees are bees. They work...so if I have a colony of bees that made it thru winter, but were too active all winter, then I'll utilize these colonies as resource bees to boost populations in other hives or bees to use in my mating nucs to raise the queens I am grafting. Resource bees are good to have around to use in a breeding apiary as long as you monitor that they are not raising drone brood.
    Last edited by KevinWI; 03-19-2019 at 06:42 PM.
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by KevinWI View Post
    I don't. Bees are bees. They work...so if I have a colony of bees that made it thru winter, but were too active all winter, then I utilize these colonies as resource bees to boost populations in other hives or bees to use in my mating nucs to raise the queens I am grafting.
    that stament of past actions would seem to be a fabrication.
    on youtube you say
    started in 2017 and you have yet to have a colony of bees make it till spring... This year is looking to be your 1st https://youtu.be/7uhWHINUxUc?t=562
    You have never successfully grafted https://youtu.be/7uhWHINUxUc?t=1449

    Edit- sense you have now removed that video from your channel , I will reference a different one of yours

    2018 was your second year as a beekeeper https://youtu.be/OAdPa4BRxgg?t=138
    You have yet to overwinter a hive, took 100% losses winter of 17/18 a https://youtu.be/OAdPa4BRxgg?t=181
    you have never successfully grafted a cell https://youtu.be/OAdPa4BRxgg?t=1173
    Last edited by msl; 03-20-2019 at 09:40 AM.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlackBirds View Post
    .... Personally, if the winter doesnt end a colony that is trying to raise substantial amounts of brood when nothing is coming in, then I cull them out myself as soon as the weather breaks.
    As for me - ti depends.
    If I have a mite-hardy bee, I will give them all the chances possible to carry through the mite-hardiness (at the expense of poor winter-hardiness, if comes to it).

    Got at least one such case this year.
    They pooped all over due to presumed low winter-hardiness - but they survived and this counts as a success.

    I am keeping this mite-hardy "poopers" and breading off of them as wide as I can this summer.
    Hoping for mite-hardy AND winter-hardy crosses - there will be some drones of the Russian and my own origins to mate with.

    So, it depends on your priorities and the context - to cull or not to cull.
    Last edited by GregV; 03-19-2019 at 06:31 PM.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by GregV View Post
    As for me - ti depends.
    If I have a mite-hardy bee, I will give them all the chances possible to carry through the mite-hardiness (at the expense of poor winter-hardiness, if comes to it).

    Got at least one such case this year.
    They pooped all over due to presumed low winter-hardiness - but they survived and this counts as a success.

    I am keeping this mite-hardy "poopers" and breading off of them as wide as I can this summer.
    Hoping for mite-hardy AND winter-hardy crosses - there will be some drones of the Russian and my own origins to mate with.

    So, it depends on your priorities and the context - to cull or not to cull.
    Can I inquire on a question? from my understanding only pure Russians are what you want to breed from as people have not been having good luck with hybrids...so although folks love the winter hardiness of the russians, you need pure stock to achieve. Sort of like the buckfast...makes a great bee in its purest form, but not so much in any cross breeding. What do you think?

    Sort of getting off topic, so I apologize.
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post

    .

    I never wrap the hives, but I'm not as far north as you are. If the bees stay dry they can handle quite a bit and come out strong in the spring.
    Do you tape off the box joints at all?
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    Quote Originally Posted by KevinWI View Post
    Can I inquire on a question? from my understanding only pure Russians are what you want to breed from as people have not been having good luck with hybrids...so although folks love the winter hardiness of the russians, you need pure stock to achieve. Sort of like the buckfast...makes a great bee in its purest form, but not so much in any cross breeding. What do you think?

    Sort of getting off topic, so I apologize.
    As long as talk of winter-hardiness, we are on-topic (in my book).

    I think for all practical purposes for regular folk - "pure" bee of any origin is a non-sense.
    Pure bee idea only works for those who sell them - the "pure bees".
    Marketing.
    Obviously.

    Pure bees only make sense as on-time genetic infusion into your local population in hopes of it taking some foot hold.
    If you exactly after this - sure.
    Otherwise - your bees are hybrids as we speak and my bees are hybrids as we speak.
    There are no other bees.

    Unless you are a large breeder with resources (isolation, artificial mating facility and expertise, etc), talking of pure breed of bees makes no practical sense.
    Your most pure bees acquired from the most reputable source will cross-breed the very first summer you got them.
    The product of that breeding will be crosses with the input (significance will vary) from your surrounding bee population.

    Now, whatever the resulting crosses will be - they will be of a very wide ranging random pheno-types (in a wider sense of expression, not just the bee exterior).
    Chances are high enough, some of the pheno-types produced by the crossing will still be of desired nature (e.g. winter-hardy or mite-hardy or both).

    And so:
    - let the external selective pressure (i.e. nature) to take care of this for you - your job is to create enough combinations and cross your fingers (in hopes of some of the combinations turn OK)
    - if winter-hardiness is present in the inputs, the selective pressure will make sure that the winter-hardiness will persist and carry on (not guarantied, but the numbers game)

    At present in the USA, the Russian blood and AMM blood and Carni blood (heck, even AHB blood) are all over the place due to cross-county sales and migration.
    Like it or not, the bees with presence of these bloods are around and the most winter-hardy bees will bubble up for you and me (given enough time).

    This last winter was an excellent chance to push the winter-hardy bees up.
    As well as many non-winter-hardy bees got wiped out - a good thing for us (in a bigger, non-emotional picture).
    To compare, winters of 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 did not really favor winter-hardy bees.
    But the winter 2018/2019 was a big natural selection event for winter-hardiness (even after all the feeding, and treating, and wrapping and what have you).
    Last edited by GregV; 03-19-2019 at 07:29 PM.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Northern Midwest Winter Beekeeping Manifesto

    I understand about purebred and hybrids....what I was reading was saying that if you think you will get xyz traits by breeding russians into your local mutts, you may be in for a surprise and get more of the agressive aspects and less of the wanted "winter hardiness" aspects of that genetic.....
    Honestly, I've never had Russians, so I have no frame of reference, but I've been staying away due to their more "staple your pant leg to your socks" personality that I've only read about.
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTqB0zcmhmQ

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