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Discussion Starter #1
My primary question (for those who don't want to read the extended background story): how well can newly installed package bees protect brood from chilling given a couple overnight temperatures in the 25F range?

Extended background: I installed my first package on April 7th, I know I took a chance by installing so early up here in 5B Massachusetts, but I wanted to give them the greatest build-up period possible, maybe even get a small honey crop this year (or at least, get them nice and strong going into fall). The install day actually went beautifully, 60F and sunny, and the week after was more of the same, even getting up to 70F for a couple days. On day 6 I opened up the hive, and they had already fully drawn out 5/8 frames in the medium super I started them in, released the queen, filled some scattered cells with a couple different varieties of pollen, and had at least one frame with eggs/young larvae. So I decided to add a deep super on top (actually just add frames to the deep I was using for feeder protection, and move up the inner cover) to give them room to build.

Day 8 the polar vortex returned, and the last two nights have dipped to around 25F, so I'm wondering if a slowly depleting force of package bees will be able to maintain the brood temperature through this hopefully brief return of winter, or if I'm now hitting a serious hiccup and this brood will be lost as the timer continues to count down and mortality continues to rise amongst my original colonists. I am avoiding the new parent urge to open up the hive and check on them, as I know this would surely doom them.

Thoughts?
 

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On a warm days I don't see a problem getting into an established hive everyday. Last year I opened a few hives almost everyday to observe progress of cell building, I did not really go thru all the frames but just a quick check. I did not observe any adverse effects all hives did well and made it thru winter.

Extended periods of cold when lots of brood is around can be stressful. I left my small nucs out in the cold the last two nigts, they probably struglled a bit. I did consider screening the entrance and bringing them inside overnight but never did. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger right? ;-)
 

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Discussion Starter #4
@ginko
Yeah in retrospect they probably could have gotten on fine building out the last couple frames in the medium, but the weather forecast here was pretty poor, and didn't foresee just how cold it was gonna get. Now that it's on I can't do much about it without opening the hive, my hope is that they have self-regulated their expansion and are just clustered in the already brood-laden frames. The only real problem I think from the expansion is that the feeder is now a whole deep away from the main colony, sitting on top of cold foundationless frames. It should warm up enough to take a better look in the hive in a couple days (if the forecasts are right this time).

Edit: frames aren't foundationless, just haven't been drawn out.
 

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You could insulate or wrap your hives at night to give them some extra buffering from the cold air. Since you want something temporary and easy to take on and off, I'd suggest blankets. While it won't warm the air in the hives it will lower the energy cost to bees of maintaining their critical cluster and brood temps, which are a remarkable 90+F. Last winter I was always marveled when my hive thermometers read 94 F when the outside air was in the teens below zero, a more than 120 degree temperature differential. Astounding little bugs!

I think that after tonight the night time temps will be improving a bit, but of course we (I am north of Albany, NY, so am in the same boat as you, even a bit colder) in the northeast can expect short periods of cold nights for the next six weeks.

Have you withdrawn the feeder now that you have the 2nd deep on? I think they might still be needing food, but liquid food in low day time temps can also present problems, too. When it's below 50 F they have trouble drying it down for storage and it adds a lot of unwanted - and chilling - humidity to the hive environment.

I think your bees will probably be fine even if you do nothing, but if it were me, I'd give them a bit of wrapping. After removing most of my insulation/wrapping last weekend to avoid overheating them in the 75+ temps we had, I put it back on.

If you have a wool blanket, fold it and wrap it around the sides, back and top of the hive, making sure not to cover the entrance hole and upper vent. Tie it, bungee it or ratchet strap in place. It's OK if it covers part of the front, too. If you aren't at home during the day, I'd remove it before leaving for work to avoid overheating. At this time of year even a cold day is more than warm enough for the bees and sun will warm the boxes even more. If you haven't got your entrance hole reduced, I'd do that, as well. If you don;t have an entrance reducer, you could thumb-tack a suitable piece of cardboard over part of the opening.

(BTW, you may have read the myth of bees' dislike of wool because it supposedly reminds them of bears. My bees found the top surface of the wool blankets an excellent place to rest on cold days when they flew out during the winter. None of my blankets have been treated with moth-killing chemicals, though. Not sure if that would be good for bees.)

Opening the hive won't doom them, perhaps just stress them unnecessarily a bit. When necessary last winter I had my hivetops off (very briefly!) in temps in the high teens and twenties. I wouldn't do that just for curiosity, of course.

Getting the bees extra early may not put you ahead of the game, especially in your first year. It's like planting tomatoes: you can put them in the ground in early or mid-May. If we don't get a late frost, they won't die outright though they may struggle a bit more. But tomatoes set out when the soil, air, and season are a bit farther along may outstrip them in the long run.

BTW, although it may be possible that the bees will make enough honey to consider taking some off for yourself, I wouldn't count on it. I am just coming out of my first winter with my bees - with 100% survival - and I was glad that I left them everything. I even added extra feed over the winter to make sure they'd make it through. Your bees have a huge energy-draining project ahead of them this summer: to build their combs and store enough honey and pollen to not only feed themselves over winter but also to have a surplus to be able to feed their 2015 brood which they will starting in late January or February, months before any nectar or pollen can be gathered. Well nourished bees are much better able to resist the rigors of the winter and handle the disease and mite pressures they must cope with.

Enj.
 

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if you need the space you could put the undrawn medium bellow the one the bees are using for now, that will make getting to the feeder a better situation... do not worry as long as the queen was not chilled at installation you will be fine... if it is cold still pick a less windy time and do it quick.
 

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They should do ok as long as they have enough food.... Building comb takes a lot of sugar and remember that they won't take syrup if it is cold (below 50F or so)..... Dry (or slightly damp) sugar or sugar bricks are the way to go until things warm up.....
 

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Discussion Starter #8
@enjambres
Thank you for the detailed response. Yes I still have a feeder on them (though I downgraded from 1 Gal to a quart can, since the deep is now filled and I'm using an empty medium as the feeding chamber). I think you might be right about the ratio being a little thin, I'm doing 1:1 with HBH, and haven't seen them storing nectar, just pollen. They've also been sipping at it (maybe 1/2 gal total in 10 days) compared to what I've heard about initial package's voracious appetites. I'm hoping that they are supplementing with nectar from other sources, but they did manage to draw out some frames relatively quickly, so I'm hopeful that they are getting adequate nutrition (I've also got a 1/4 lb. pollen supplement patty in there that they have been nibbling at and storing alongside the available pollen). I do always see bees on the feeder when I check, so I know they are making some use of it.
My thinking on the early start is that if I have an established brood cycle up and going by early May, I should have a weak but quickly ramping foraging crew in place for the early nectar run, instead of a declining population desperately trying to raise brood from scratch. I could be wrong, but it's the path I've chosen and there's no going back now ;)
 
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