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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This was my second year over wintering bees and my second year losing both of my colonies. I'm looking for possible reasons for this years' losses and advice for next year. Here are the facts:

I run standard double-deep hives with 10 frames per box. Both hives were looking good going into winter in terms of colony size and winter stores. I wrapped the hives in tar paper and put 2 inch styrofoam on top. Both hives were tested for mites and treated in the fall. I found lots of dead bees in the hives. In the one hive, the bees were dead and preserved in quite a large cluster. There were plenty of stores available below them. And the dead bees all appeared very wet in both hives. I saw some evidence of mold growing on dead bees.

I live in northeast Iowa, we had a VERY harsh winter, high winds record low temps, tons of snow. I'm wondering if it could be a condensation /air flow issue. I had small top entrance drilled in the top box, but maybe not large enough for air flow.

Anyway, any thoughts or ideas are much appreciated.
 

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Your problem is very likely that the available feed was below the cluster. When the weather is cold they will not move down to find feed, and will starve with an abundance of food in the hive. Next winter make sure you always have food above the cluster. That means opening the hive and adding sugar when the cluster comes to the top of the frames. You will likely have to add more food several times over the coarse of the winter. How often depends on when the cluster comes up. I had some clusters on the top bars by Christmas and added sugar to them 5 times.
Dave
 

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I've only got one witner under my belt, but I've got 4 of 6 coming through alive and well. It seems like msot folks around me are at 50-75% losses. the only thing i did differently than others is have a quilt box above the bees for venitlation and moisture controll. I suppose they are somewhat protected from wind as they are protected by woods on 2 sides. Quilt boxes are cheap and easy to make, so it might be soemthing to consider for next winter.
 

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I am no expert, but I do know that most of the time including pictures of the dead outs helps the ones that are determine what happened. Close up pics of the cells will also help to see if there could have been mite feces or another problem.
 

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I am a first year beekeeper, so take this for what it's worth: I second the recomendation to try quilt boxes above @2-3" ventilated feeding shim next year. The quilt boxes I used here in northern NY did an outstanding job of keeping my hives dry, and to my surprise, also warm in the feeding space above the top bars. I feed Lauri's Recipe sugar bricks from Christmas on. All three of my first-year hives are alive.

In addition to the above, I also had at least 2" of insulation foam on all sides of the hive. (And some more inside, though I am not promoting that as I'm not sure how it worked, yet. It's still too cold here to open the hives more than just enought to restock the bricks -- perhaps Wednesday it will be warm enough!) Plus, I also had wool blankets and tarp wrapped around the hives. Not sure I wouold do the blankets again as it made managing the hives over the winter very labor intensive - and I'm not sure how much it did other than comfort me on nights when the temps went to minus 20F.

But the foam insulation panels around the outside, the QBs and sugar bricks are in my permanent management plans. All are easy to do, inexpensive and apparently quite effective as I have 100% survival. And being so new at keeping bugs, I'm not going to take any personal credit here. My bees, BTW, are just swarm mutts, nothing fancy.

I am very sorry your bees died - it must be very discouraging to have had it happen twice. Give some thought to adding insulation, QN and sugar bricks - that certainly worked for me and I am in a severe climate, too.

Enj.
 

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I must have lucked out this year; I thought I'd lost 2 of 5 but only lost 1 of 5, so I'm real happy. Sorry to hear you lost your bees, it's a sad thing I know. The year before last, my first year, I built 3" deep frames with screen on the bottom of them and filled them with cedar shavings. That seemed to work real well with the moisture, but this year I was just plain lazy and didn't do it. Next year I will use them again.
 

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i lucked out myself this year and only lost 2 out of 20 here in SE MN and it was a very bad winter. I put a super on top of the inner cover and put a screen on the hole and filled it with wood shavings then put a moisture board on top of that. the wood chips were wet to the touch and the board was soaked also but the bees made it. I think the moisture really gets em here in the far north. I had no upper ventalation hole besides the one in the top box and the little entrance in the bottom
 

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"And the dead bees all appeared very wet in both hives. I saw some evidence of mold growing on dead bees."

This is an opinion from a new beek...you had wet bees, so what could have caused that? Your insulation could have covered some of the air flow that was needed....I caught this on one hive. The roofing tar paper was too high compromised some of the ventilation (I keep a Popsicle stick glued to my telescoping cover on each corner for ventilation all year round) Some type of absorbent feature should be in the hive,too, like a quilt box or a screened shim filled with sugar that has an upper entrance; that will absorb moisture too; my upper entrance was about 3/4" hole in addition to a small drilled hole in the upper brood box. The entrance was open about 3 inches. I will prepare my hives this same way next year. It worked for me, and I am in upper NY State, where winter was extremely cold this year. Make sure your apiary location is not in a damp area.
 

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It sounds like they ran out of available feed and the wet dead bees means you had a ventilation problem. The quilt boxes appear to be a good idea but I personally don't go that route. Bees starve to death one row of dry cells away from honey when the cluster shrinks in the cold away from stores and it stays cold til they die. That is why I have become a firm believer in putting a 3" feeder rim over the top brood box, lay down a newspaper and spray it damp and pour on a ten pound bag of sugar. I provide an upper entrance to allow moisture to escape by boring a 1 inch hole below the handhold in the top hivebody. Between the sugar absorbing moisture and that ventilation I never have moisture problems and year in year out winter in the eighties % survival that is. When the bees hit the top of the frames, they move into a ten pound sugar cube that lasts until it warms up. When spring comes, the sugar is solid and is easily picked up to be made into syrup. If the bees eat the sugar before it is warm enough for syrup, I replenish it with bricks of sugar made by pouring one pint of water into ten pounds of sugar and pressing the sludge into cheap plastic coated soup bowls Dixie brand that hold a little over a pound each. Let them dry a day or two and invert them over the cluster.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
dw, Where they pkg bees that you bought both years? Did you find a dead queen amidst the cluster of worker bees?
Yes both years were from package bees. I didn't look for the dead queen, but I do know that both colonies were queen right going into winter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
You will likely have to add more food several times over the coarse of the winter.
Dave
I've never tried to get into the hive during the winter. If I'm going to try that - can you give me some temperature guidelines as to when it's okay to crack the hive and for how long?
 

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dw, what is worse a little chill or dead bees? When they need feed, feed them. I have opened hives to add sugar with temperatures in the single digits. I pick a sunny, wind free day, and go for it. If I have a choice I pick days that are at least above freezing. The time it takes to add sugar is brief, and of no consequence. We have been through 6 winters. The first year we had three hives and lost one due to queen failure. The other 5 the winter loss has been less than 10%. Be quiet and disturb the cluster as little as possible. If the cluster does not break the bees will not even loose heat. They do not heat the hive. They heat the cluster.
The past 5 winters we have had 15-21 hives.
Dave
 

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dw, Pkg bees have a high failure rate, I would try to find a local supplier who has nucs for sale.
Your hole in top box should have taken care of moisture, water and wet bees maybe came after they died. Starvation,
mites, or queen supercedure during winter could have done them in. Starving you can correct up top, the other two
you can't do much for. I take my losses and move on, but I do have more hives than just two. If your only choice is pkg.
bees, I would build them up, and split them up again end of June or 1st wk in July. That way you can have a young queens
and beat the mite cycle problem, then make sure they have honey in the hives and feed them if necessary end of Feb. or
first part of March.
 
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