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OK, been doing this for about 12 years, "think" I know a little but am doing some serious head scratching about how much in resources does a colony need for winter. Specifically, have never weighed, just grabbed the bottom board and tried to pick up. I'm 6' and 200 lbs, depending on the "OOF" factor, I determined which needed feeding in the fall. Never lost one until a couple years ago. Where I'm confused is "back when we had winters here," the bees would be in the hive except for cleansing flights so resources were adequate. Recent years, they go through a lot more as temps are often above 50 and they're out foraging or at least flying. The only one I've lost was a couple of years ago, early warm spell, bees everywhere, followed by a couple weeks of very cold weather. I fed the ones I thought would be light but didn't check one colony which had always been a monster in terms of weight. Yep. Lost that one. Now I know to basically check all winter when it's warm and feed as required.

My confusion or question to those who know much more is this: Do "winter bees" forage like their much shorter lived sisters? With the "unseasonal" warm winters are the queens producing more eggs during the winter so more foragers? I had thought that egg production was a function of day length and pollen coming into the hive. I'm guessing that with bees flying all over, they're using up more resources (without bringing anything back) than if they were "cold bound" in the hive.

I read in a recent post that "40 pounds is adequate in this area," I think it was in Va. or N.C., south of here anyway. There was a time when I would have made a similar statement for this area, not any more.
 

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It's often hard to distinguish between total hive weight recommendations and ones that refer to the amount of honey weight, because they may not be specified separately.

Forty lbs, in honey weight, for instance, would mean about 7 fully capped, deep frames of just honey,. The same 40 lbs as total hive weight, including bees, boxes, combs, etc. is barely an 8-frame medium.

Feeding a colony to give them 40 lbs of (syrup) honey weight would require about 4+/- gallons of 2:1 syrup.

Bees out flying around looking for nectar (as opposed to just going out to poop) will use up more resources than bees just hanging out in a cluster indoors.

I am pretty strong, and I can tilt up hives that weigh more than 100 lbs. But I cannot easily distinguish between, say, 90 and 120 lbs. Since I want to make sure my stacks weigh at least 120 lbs, I weigh each one with a game scale. It takes only a few minutes, and then I am sure that "heavy feeling" really means heavy with resources. (All my colonies have the same items of equipment.)

My bees up here northern NY are usually hivebound for 3-4 months. And they start brood long before (months before) they can expect to forage again. So incoming pollen isn't the trigger for them.

Nancy

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Nancy, i have looked at game scales before, but don't see how they are used to weigh bee hives, does the sclae have to be made on some type of tripod or rigging to pick up the whole hive at once or are you weigh only sides of he hive like when we tilt them to check weights
 

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OK, been doing this for about 12 years, "think" I know a little but am doing some serious head scratching about how much in resources does a colony need for winter. Specifically, have never weighed, just grabbed the bottom board and tried to pick up. I'm 6' and 200 lbs, depending on the "OOF" factor, I determined which needed feeding in the fall. Never lost one until a couple years ago. Where I'm confused is "back when we had winters here," the bees would be in the hive except for cleansing flights so resources were adequate. Recent years, they go through a lot more as temps are often above 50 and they're out foraging or at least flying. The only one I've lost was a couple of years ago, early warm spell, bees everywhere, followed by a couple weeks of very cold weather. I fed the ones I thought would be light but didn't check one colony which had always been a monster in terms of weight. Yep. Lost that one. Now I know to basically check all winter when it's warm and feed as required.

My confusion or question to those who know much more is this: Do "winter bees" forage like their much shorter lived sisters? With the "unseasonal" warm winters are the queens producing more eggs during the winter so more foragers? I had thought that egg production was a function of day length and pollen coming into the hive. I'm guessing that with bees flying all over, they're using up more resources (without bringing anything back) than if they were "cold bound" in the hive.

I read in a recent post that "40 pounds is adequate in this area," I think it was in Va. or N.C., south of here anyway. There was a time when I would have made a similar statement for this area, not any more.
I was just watching Jason Christman last night on youtube. He's in ohio. Think he said 100 pounds per colony. go watch his latest video
 

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@Beefarner,

The way I use my Cabela's scale is to weigh both the front and back separately, and add the numbers together to approximate the total hive weight. Some people do the sides, but I find that awkward given how close my stacks are to each other.

You have to put some concentration into making sure the lift (which is only as high as needed to break free of the stand) is as vertical and parallel to the plane of the boxes as possible. Any slightly outward pull messes up the counts. As does, inevitably to some degree, lifting from the front of entrance area since it sticks out beyond the main mass of the stack.

I have checked the weighing process described above against weighing the hives while they are suspended fro m the bucket of our tractor, using identical hive (including strapping needed for the lift already in place when doing the weights on the ground), using the same scale, etc. Almost invariably the hanging (dead weight which I would consider a truer weight) weight was somewhat higher, about 5%, on average.

Since doing the hanging weights involves getting my husband's assistance with the tractor, etc., I am content to use ground weights knowing that if anything I am underestimating it a bit.

I use a hook for going under the hive (Lowes or HD, and I can give you a picture of it, if needed) and have added a giant carabiner for a handhold. You have to lift, and let the numbers settle down for a few seconds, before they are locked in to the digital display. Hoisting half of a 150-160 lb hive with two fingers in the carabiner that came with the scale is agony, even for those few seconds! Now I have one I can slot my whole fist through, which makes it much easier. - and gives me more accurate weights, I believe.

I use a Cabela's digital game scale, that has a tare function and holds the last weight until you clear it. That way I can concentrate oin getting a good, vertical lift with no need to change positions and bend around to see the number. I think it cost somewhere between $35 and $45 bucks. I have used it a lot, and accidentally given it pretty rough treatment and it does just fine.

Nancy
 

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Very interesting question, how do winter bees go from pampered princesses to short-lived foragers, and when does the queen kick into brood rearing. On the one hand, it is well documented that bees can start broodrearing well before pollen is available (write up here: http://scientificbeekeeping.com/understanding-colony-buildup-and-decline-part-3/ for a review). Buuuuut.... this past year, with a very cold march-april, with pollen not coming in until early April, I did not see broodrearing until late April. N of 3. ;) Tho another beek found the same, my queens are grandaughters of his stock.

So, it may depend on the queen's tendencies. I have part Minnesota Hygenic, part survived Chardon winter, part flew over the fence. They do not go out and fly despite being strong colonies when they have enough stored in the fall. The do go forage with a young queen who is the daughter of a dumb queen who swarmed end of Aug.

I am glad to hear that few of your colonies seem to have succumbed to starvation. I'd say keep track of lineage of your queens, or where you got them, see if that matters.

Oh one more thing about how heavy: I have overwintered super huge (20 deep frames chock full) and nuc sized (6 frames covered in fall). In each case, seems like the amount of honey consumed matched the number of frames covered with bees. So the 20-framer was fed 6 quart jars at a time for 4 times or some huge amount like that and was very full of honey. The 6-framers had 6 or so frames of honey and did not even finish them before being able to forage. I haven't seen careful measures here, just anecdotal.

Do you mind sharing more about what you found when you went through your starved colony? I've seen an imported varroa kill (went robbing and brought unbelievable amounts home), home-grown varroa kills, but not yet starvation.
 

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GBelow is the address for my under 2 minute video on how I weigh my colonies and information on the equipment. I fully understand that I am not getting a true dead weight, I simply don’t require it for my purpose. I weigh every Sunday, April through October. I believe the information helps me understand the ebb and flow of the flows and when they occur, also I am beginning to build a data base as to what is necessary to get through my Michigan winter. This system is inexpensive, quick and easy. I maintain a spreadsheet on each colony. I have been doing this for 6 years and I find it useful.

The Cabelas page may not be current, I bought the scale a long time ago but you should be able to find it in their search function.

Weighing and my cabalas scale https://youtu.be/kdyYdDIogZ8

The hook is from Home Depot, the description is “Tornado 40lb steel hook”.
The scale is http://www.cabelas.com/product/hunti...?N=1100182
 

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We go into our crazy winters with, visual inspection, two boxes full of capped honey, mediums. And some capped honey in the bottom deep. We cover the top of the hives, in November, with home made sugar bricks. Each hive gets enough to cover the top of the hive, around 6 lbs worth. The blocks are around 1 inch thick. Usually by January that sugar is gone, the capped honey is gone, the bees are at the top of the hive, we add more. Towards March they start tossing it, we still leave in the hives until we see the dandelions blooming. Cheap insurance.

We vary between cold and warm winters, the bees fly even in temperatures that hover around 40, sometimes lower. Our hives are full sun, we do not wrap them.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for all the responses. Sounds like we all have different ways to deal with this issue. Weighing seems to be preferred to know what you're going into winter with. I'll continue to check when we have unseasonably warm spells.

Trish, it was the classic dead bees with their heads in empty cells. After I discovered I did an online search, also sent pics to the state inspector who verified starvation. He also said a lot of hives were lost that spring due to the warm spell followed by extended cold.

Thanks again,
 

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Starving when a warm spell is followed by a return to cold weather may be the same as what is referred to as "locked on brood" and starving. During the warm spell pollen comes in and the queen may lay up quite a large amount of brood which the bees cover and will starve rather than abandon it. They consume all stores within reach and honey in cells may be only inches away but might as well be a mile!
 

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Im just up the highway from you, in Richmondale. Getting back into bees after about 25 years, having caught a swarm while gardening this July. I never weighed my hives before, but I always ran double deeps for brood, making sure the top box was full of honey in the late fall. And yes winters were longer and colder back then. I dont think the bees actually forage during the winter, they might explore during their cleansing flights on warm days. In my experience 40 deg temps are ideal for bees to over winter, not so warm as to get them active, and not cold enough for them to expend extra energy keeping the cluster warm.
 

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I do 35lbs in Louisville. The aparies average consumption is around 23lb. Ive let hives winter heavier and they still consume roughly the same weight. I weigh and track weights. Last year was a cold "normal" winter and they did great. I lost 3 of 24 but they didn't starve, and were gone by beginning of winter.

In Louisville we have pretty good early forage, maples start blooming end of February.
 

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@trishbookworm, here are a couple of pics of a starved hive. First shows the dead cluster still clinging to the frame. You can also see some head in bees. The second shows the big pile of dead under the cluster. We had a very warm February and then a colder than normal March with high winds.

20180120_134005.jpg
20180120_134141.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I know that the last couple of winters we've had a lot of 50+ degree days and bees were flying all over. Foraging, extended cleansing flights, dunno? I do feel they used up a lot more resources than if they were just hanging out in the cluster.

I guess all I was trying to point out with this post is that the historic or usual hive weight you have found adequate may not be if a mild winter with a lot of "flying" days occurs.
 

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Exmar, you are spot on with that observation. Seems kinda counterintuitive at first, the colder it is the less resources they use. Last year my strongest hive went into winter with 9 deep frames of capped syrup. Three months later, they still had nine frames and half of the sugar brick. Brood build up started in mid Jan and by the end of Feb all the capped stuff was GONE and I was feeding 1:1 and pollen sub patties. I suspect that the addition of the feed had a lot to do with the increased consumption rate.
 

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This is where the idea of keeping the bees in the "fridge" is worth repeating (especially, if the winter has wild swings up and down).
The cheapest way to winter bees is in a "frigde" (i.e. - well insulated hive so to smooth internal temperature fluctuations caused by external temp swings).
The bees in the "fridge" tend to stay dormant for as long as possible and as efficient as possible that way (vs. jumping out at every single warmish day mid-winter, trying to forage uselessly and trying to brood up too early).

It has been shown that most efficient temperature for wintering is stable 4-5C (~40F) internally in the hive body.
 

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One mistake I never made was to let the bees starve. They always had stores because I leave 20kg of stores in the hive ALL THE SEASON and take only surplus. From the surplus I feed those in need. You might say I take surplus of the surplus. I have honey enough for myself and to sell a small part.

That´s because I make strong splits, if they do not swarm on me. The strong queenless work for me bringing the honey.

Going into winter the colonies have 20-30kg of stores, in my climate they say it´s 15kg they need. Being tf I can take spring surplus because the honey is not contaminated with acids and because it´s not sugar syrup honey.
If it´s crystallized ( +- 50% is) I take the liquid and use the crystallized to feed.

I feed when I have no honey frames from others and I feed the small splits I make with the old queen. Those small splits I feed even if there is a good flow to boost them to become strong fast because they must fight the mites on their own and breed faster than the mites, having no broodbrake.

I never feed pollen substitute because this goes against nature and can kill bees which are not treated. It´s not always the mite which kills bees.

I started to feed all colonies, weak or strong, if they have to build comb. No matter the flow.

That´s the difference between being a commercial and a hobbyist. Much harder, being a commercial, having to take all honey and deciding about winter feeding.
 

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Another factor would be if this colony made brood late and early they would go through a lot more stores. I have a local friend who has two different scale hives. Hive weights decline very slowly until after the solstice. Then hives weight loss picks up. By early February a strong hive loses weight quickly. Late cold weather delays spring flowers/dandelions bloom. This will put stronger hives at risk of starving.

One hundred pounds of stores is a lot for anywhere in Ohio. While that would get any colony through I think something in the 50-60 lbs of stores should be sufficient for Ohio.

Tom
 
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