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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Despite trying really hard, it would appear that my hive did not make it through its first winter. I got a late start (mid-summer - I had to feed sugar water constantly) and had to combine two hives because one of them was really struggling, but they seemed to have good numbers going into winter and most of the 10 frames were pretty well covered in comb. Only one deep box, but I had given them lots of fondant in a spacer right above the bars (with 1/4" wire mesh to hold the sugar). Above that was the inner cover, then a bee-dry pillow (to absorb) moisture, and the top cover. I made a small hole near the top so they could exit from there, and I also kept the bottom entrance open (a small space - also had a mouse guard and entrance reducer). This winter has been cold and long, but I was seeing activity (a few dead bees at the entrance) until about three weeks ago. I had also wrapped the hive late last year.

I haven't dug too deep yet, but all bees seem to be dead. Mostly they are near the top, and they look fine. Lots, but not all, fondant remained. I think it was condensation because there were ice crystals hanging from the inner cover, despite the pillow.

I was just wondering if anyone had any insight - mainly, how could I have had condensation issues with the top entrance (plus the bottom entrance for air flow), and the pillow?

The other possibility that I've just realized is that there wasn't enough brood to raise, but I was under the impression that the winter bees lives through the winter ("old wisdom" which I never thought to confirm, I guess). When I combined the two hives (each single box only) into one last year, the weak hive was very low in numbers and I believe the queen just wasn't very good. I did take a couple of their heaviest frames to put in the combined hive (replacing two of the mostly-empty frames that the strong hive hadn't managed to fill yet).

Your help would be appreciated. Thanks!
 

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My heart goes out to you as you obviously did everything you could and still had bad results. Bees like all livestock die. If you don't lose some you have never kept some. Without being there it is just too hard to say exactly what happened. With this long cold winter, I am inclined to think that your bees starved out. They can do it with fifty pounds of honey in the hive that is just not in the right place. All it takes is for the cluster in extreme cold weather to shrink down one row of cells away from additional honey supply and not be able to bridge that gap and they will starve.

Do a good inspection to rule out foulbrood. I am sure that your province or nation supplies some kind of free laboratory that will analyse a sample piece of suspect brood comb. Foulbrood results in capped brood with ragged holes in the cap. Take a toothpick and carefully remove the capping. If you see a pupae drying up you do not have foulbrood. If you see a melting larvae that died shortly after the bees capped it, stick your toothpick in and twist to wrap the goo onto the toothpick. Pull gently straight up and if the goo is sticky and ropes out on the tooth pick you possibly have foulbrood and need to destroy the comb and may need to contact your appropriate governmental agency. I would send it off for evaluation.

But that is not very likely, so if you have no reason for suspicions, brush off the dead bees and debris and store them til you can find bees to put on that valuable drawn comb. Don't bother trying to remove the head in dead bees, the bees can do that fast and without harming the comb. Any dead brood should be put on the outside of the box if you only have one story. I like to let the bees be strong and have warm weather to handle the dead brood.

Unless your dead bees are wet and soggy I doubt that condensation was the cause of loss. There are ice crystals in every wintering colony. In fact, they are an important source of water for the bees to reliquify honey on the warmer days when they can. Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thank you so much for your response. I really did try as hard as I could, hopefully I will have better luck this year. I plan to start ASAP this year as I think my late start last year contributed to the death of the hive.

If it was was the long, cold winter, is there anything more I can do next year? Will I have better chance if I start the winter with a stronger hive and say, two deep boxes instead of one? I hope that next year won't be so bad but all winters in Ottawa seem long and cold :) There was a large mass of bees on the top, above the wire mesh - is that consistent with starvation though? I guess I'll know more when I get in there.

I will check for foul brood - thanks for the tips. I do want to get in there and see if I can learn anything more to help me for next year... when it is less cold and I'm less bummed about it, anyway!

Don't bother trying to remove the head in dead bees, the bees can do that fast and without harming the comb. Any dead brood should be put on the outside of the box if you only have one story. I like to let the bees be strong and have warm weather to handle the dead brood.
What does "the head" mean? Regarding the warm weather - I was hoping to start with a new batch in early May. I assume I will get four frames (if so I can just start with those in the middle of the box) or I suppose I can get just a box of bees which I assume doesn't include four full frames - in which case, can I start in May? I have equipment for two hives so I could let them start in a clean hive and then give them old frames (from the dead hive) from time to time.

Lastly, can I source the bees from another farm, or should I get the same stock as last time?

Thanks again, and sorry for all the questions. I am feeling a bit unsure at the moment but I'll get over it eventually :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Oh yes!! Great - thank you for mentioning that. I couldn't find the source on the link but I assume you mean this:

 

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Bees often starve to death head first into the cells, that is what 'head in' means. I like a sheet of newspaper over any metal mesh because the paper forms no gap the bees have to cross. It sounds like the bees clustered In your super or feeder rim and the cold shrank the cluster away from the food source. That is why my feeder rims are less than 3" deep. That provides room to pour on up to ten pounds of dry sugar which absorbs that extra moisture and provides emergency feed cheaper and easier than fondant IMO. Your pillow over the sugar works the same as my cover of sound board topped with 2" Styrofoam.

Many commercial Canadian beeks winter in singles. Look at frenchbeefarm.com If you don't parlez vou, the article section has a wintering plan in English. pedersonapiaries.ca also may have information of interest to you on wintering. honeybeeworld.com contains a diary of a retired Canadian commercial guy who this week has pictures and discussion on his first spring inspection.

Personally I winter in two deeps. University of Minnesota and Mr. Dick the last Canadian mentioned advocates wintering in three deeps. Many ways to skin this cat. We all take what we want from others methods and experiences and figure out what works for us in our location.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
My feeder is less than 3" deep - it's not an actual super, it's just a square of wood with mesh on it and hunks of fondant on top of the mesh.

So you have a similar thing, but you layer with newspaper and then granulated sugar? That sounds like a better, easier idea than slaving over fondant. Then a pillow or quilt box or something over that. Duly noted -- thanks!

I guess how many deeps you have is secondary to everything else... enough food, air circulation etc.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I wintered most of my hives on two deeps, but I think I'll be putting them all on a single deep next year. Less space to warm and it's easier to get a proper snow cover.
Do you mean that you let the snow cover the hive? Mine are about 2.5' off the ground and in a slightly sheltered area, so they were not engulfed in snow. However, if this is a good thing, it can certainly be arranged for next year!
 

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Do you mean that you let the snow cover the hive? Mine are about 2.5' off the ground and in a slightly sheltered area, so they were not engulfed in snow. However, if this is a good thing, it can certainly be arranged for next year!
They were not covered in snow, but I would have preferred it that way. Snow is great isolation material. Cuts the wind (very windy here, and the few deciduous trees under which I placed my hives likely don't change anything at all) and keeps the warmth in. After all, a lot of our perennial plants would never survive winter if they didn't have snow cover. The same can apply to our bees. I've never heard of a beekeeper say that his bees suffocated under the snow, everyone with whom I talked praised the snow cover.

Note that light natural snow buildup is best. If you shovel snow onto the hives, it is more compact and thus not as good for isolation. If the snow is wet and heavy, the same applies.
 

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When I wintered bees where it was really cold, I would choose a location on the downwind side of caragana or lilac hedges where the snow would completely bury the hives from November until late March or April. They wintered very well compared to those just wrapped and not covered.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Makes sense! However, when I think about it, I'm not too likely to get so much snow that it would cover much of the hive, because it's up on cinderblocks. Right now there seems to be about 3.5ft of snow out there which would only cover part of the hive.

In terms of picking the right spot - do you prioritize snow cover? Direct sun? Low wind? I have about an acre of landscaped yard behind my house, bordered with forest. I get lots of full day sun in the yard.

For all the trees and gardens, though, I don't really have shrubs. I could plant some but they wouldn't be bit for a while - although I could see if I could find something that's already big, or really fast growing or something.

Say, there's some pictures. The yard is south of the house and road. I'd really appreciate your input into the best place (if you can even tell from photos).

yard.JPG




(House is just out of frame to the right of the photo)

yard2.jpg
(Front yard - I'd prefer back. The little hill in front of where the hive is now is off limits - septic field)




(This is facing south-west - so the house is behind the camera, standing at an angle)



Thoughts? I really appreciate the help you guys! Buy yourself a beer, you've earned ;)

Who else misses summer even more now?
 

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Hard to say... The sun isn't worth much at night when it is coldest and the bees need warmth the most, but if the snow-heavy area is in the shade, then that spot is not worth much if the winter is poor in terms of snow depth (not enough snow or too many warm and rainy days). You'll have to weigh all of these factors in and make a choice according to the risks. Ideally, a spot with no wind, lots of sun, and lots of snow accumulation would be great. If such a spot exists.
 

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Zoe,

I am very sorry your hive died. It sounds as if you worked quite hard to avoid that!

I am in northern NY (eastern end below Montreal) so not quite as far north of you, but this winter has been extreme everywhere. I am also a first year beekeeper so evaluate my suggestions with that fact in mind:

I saw pictures on the net about making and using quilt boxes, and thought I'd give them a try. I happened to have some surplus comb-honey boxes (a little shallower than a typical shallow super, say about 4.75" tall.) I stapled a cotton muslin floor on the bottom and filled it heaping full with pine shavings (coarse kind from a chain store here in the US called Tractor Supply). I have an additional 2" high shim above that with two pretty large vent holes. My hope was that this would allow excess vapor in the air to pass through the fabric, into the shavings and eventually out of the hive through the holes in the shim above, while allowing me to minimize the heat-robbing air flow through the hive. It worked exactly as I hoped, but it had an additional effect: In the space below the quilt box I have another shim with a small upper entrance and room for some sugar bricks (which I found much easier at home to make than fondant). My bees congregated on the sugar bricks and hung out in the space below the QB. Occasionally I would stick a thermometer in there and was startled to discover how warm the air temp was below the QB, generally not lower than 60 F, even when the outside air temps were at zero F. I've read often that the bees don't heat the hive, only their cluster, but they certainly made enough heat to keep the air in my feeding space below the QB warm. Based on my one and only winter, I'm really happy with the QBs, and will have them on any wintering hive from now on. Best of all they are easy to make (you can temporarily repurpose and shallow or medium super), all you need is a something to contain the shavings and a shim above it to let the oisture vent out.

You might also consider adding panels of foam insulation around your hive and under your telecover (if you use one of those). I have 3" to 4" of foam on all sides of my hives. (To be honest I also have some foam insulation panels inside the hive boxes and have wrapped the whole shebang with blankets as well, but I'm not sure one needs to go that far, and I may not in the future.) I would, however, continue to strap the foam panels around the outside of the hives.

I see the panels functioning as radiant heat loss moderators, thus lowering the energy cost to the bees to maintain their vital cluster temps. And I think they may buffer the hive from sharp internal air temperature swings, which would be a good thing, too.

Hope my descriptions of what has worked for me may be useful to you next year. It's awfully hard, as a new beekeeper, to figure what to do, isn't it?

Enj.
 
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