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I am posting this as I am a new beekeeper, our hives are in the midst of their first winter. My initial analysis of our hives when checking them this afternoon is, I think pretty much 100% wrong.

Let me explain...I put fondant into each of our three hives last weekend and went to put more in this weekend..or at least check in on whether they are eating it.

Hive 1 had the fondant is covered in bees and they were flapping their wings, I assume to keep warm (it was 45 degrees and sunny outside).

Hive 2 had the fondant from last week untouched and there wasn't any sign of a single bee anywhere. Being honest the hive sounded silent to me.

Hive 3 the fondant had been totally eaten.

As a newbie my initial reaction was:

Hive 1: Great! they are feeding, looks good.

Hive 2: The hive is toast. All bees are likely dead and it is a failure.

Hive 3: Even better than Hive 1, not only are they eating it, they have totally devoured it. A+!

Then, I spent 5 mins thinking about it and I have come up with the following thoughts which are pretty much the opposite. Please tell me if I am nearer the mark.

Hive 1: This is bad, if they had sufficient food in their frames they wouldn't yet have risen up and be needing fondant. I need to check in regularly and ensure they have as much fondant as they need/eat. the problem is we are about to get COLD Monday, 5 degrees with a 20MPH wind. IF they remain on top of the fondant they will likely freeze to death.

Hive 2: This is very good. Side note: My wife leaned over and said she COULD heave a buzzing in the depths of the hive. This likely means they have sufficient food lower down and have not yet made it up to the fondant. Keep checking every while and feed when they need it.

Hive 3: Even worse then Hive 1. They have devoured the fondant and need more NOW. Interestingly this was the only hive with bees flying, likely as they have a deficit of food.

So, my initial reaction of 3 being the best hive was probably 100% off and it is in fact the worst.

I am feeding them fondant each week now but am wondering whether I should give them (hives 1 and 3) some frames of capped honey which I harvested and stored (after freezing for a few days) in the summer.

Sorry for the long rant!

Paul
 

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Just keep putting that fondant on top, If they eat it give them more most likely they will start brood rearing in the top box if they are short of food the ones you dont see could have food and have brood below so they might come up a little in good weather and eat some but go back down to the brood when it gets colder. Fondant is my insurance policy I stack it on top, if they use it good if they dont I take it off in the spring and use it for syrup.
 

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Tilt them up from the back and see how much honey they have left. If heavy they are fine, if light then you know you need to do something. On the years I have used sugar bricks I have had many hives eat all of the sugar bricks first and save the honey. I also had hives never touch the sugar and only use their honey stores.
Just because they ate your fondant doest mean they are low on stores . Tilt and check.
 

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I have had hives die from starvation that had sugar blocks on top and honey frames in the top box. They migrated to the bottom box and were trapped over the brood due to weather conditions. Be thankful they are feeding.
 

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I would lift off the back and see how much each hive weights.

For hive 2 next time it is warm and you open it up shine a flash light down and see if you can see the cluster. I can sometimes see the clusters in my hives and see it moving meaning they are still alive.
 

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for hive 2....if you like to BBQ and have a digital thermometer with lead....like a maverick, feed the probe into the top entrance hole....... if the temp of the hive is significantly higher than outside temps, then your hive is alive.... if it's close to outside temps....then Houston, you have a problem.

Let me give you a tip about hefting a hive....unless your arm is calibrated, you won't have a clue how much it weighs...on winter days it might be frozen down to the base (depending on what you call winter...the guys below the Mason/Dixon line have a way different view on what is winter than those above it). I had a hive where all the bees were on top....Late December...I hefted it (double 10/10 deep) and it seemed heavy to me. A week later the cluster on top was dead...not a drop of honey in the entire hive. Hive boxes with frames and cover empty weighed a lot more than I remembered apparently.
Do like Palmer and you can find the bees and jam your hive tool into the comb next to them....if you come out with sticky honey, you're good...if not, get fondant on now.
I put a 13lb candy board on my hive on January 1st as bees were on top.....On Jan 17th, they had about 1lb left.....it's a long dang winter and I'll be feeding them all winter. going to be expensive, too.
 

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On a cold day, like today here, put your ear up against the side of the hive, lower box and upper box. If the bees are in there, you will hear them humming along keeping warm. I do that throughout the winter. I did it today and 1 hive out of 22 has gone silent.
 

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Just keep putting that fondant on top, If they eat it give them more most likely they will start brood rearing in the top box if they are short of food the ones you dont see could have food and have brood below so they might come up a little in good weather and eat some but go back down to the brood when it gets colder. Fondant is my insurance policy I stack it on top, if they use it good if they dont I take it off in the spring and use it for syrup.
It's 17 degrees in op's location. Don't open the hive. Do what johno said. Ride it out, feed as necessary until it is warmer.
 

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I would second basically every reply on this thread. My bees seem to eat the fondant before the honey, some eat it faster than others. I would just keep topping off the fondant until spring. I also have had hives die with fondant and honey in the hive for other non-food related reasons.

You made a good point about remaining on the fondant in cold weather. I've never considered this, I just assumed that the bees clustered under or on the fondant and keep warm just the same. I've had bees survive some pretty cold winters with fondant for food.
 
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