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.