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Discussion Starter #1
Hi, I'm making plans to overwinter my first year hive. My area does not get too severe of a winter, most of the upper mid-west has harsher winters. The problem, is the length of our winter. We get our first frosts around mid-Oct and the last frost in mid-May. My question is, how long will the bees live while being overwintered? If there is no new brood being born, won't the hive die out due to natural life expectancy?
 

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If they have enough stores, they'll make it.
They'll be raising brood in there, more than you think.
Brood will bee slow to stopped in dec/jan.
It'll start picking up again by February, even where you're at maybe.
The problems arise when there are too many bad weather days in late fall and early spring when the bees don't go out to forage. They are raising brood, so need the forage, so when they can't forage they need stores. Many times a hive will make it to February but die off because of not enough stores to continue brood rearing in the early spring in bad weather with no days for foraging.
 

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The length of your winter sounds very much like ours in North Dakota. Ours is probably even harsher (temps drop into the -20s to -40s not uncommonly). I have overwintered with pretty good success for being relatively inexperienced (about 50%). I would offer the following advice based on my experiences:

1. You absolutely will have to feed in the spring (our spring and your spring onsets are similar). I have learned to count back from the first weeks of spring 8 weeks - that is how long it will take eggs laid to become foragers. This puts me in the middle of March sometime. On a nice day in March (50F or better, but I have done it during temps in the 40s), I put bucket feeders on the inner covers right above the cluster filled with 1:1 syrup (or even a bit thinner). If it is 50F or better, I also open up the top and give them a pollen patty. This will get them serious about brood rearing and provide them with the supplemental feed they need to get through the end of winter. You will have to keep feeding them regularly until the first flow from that point forward.

2. Avoid opening the top to check on them throughout the winter. It took me awhile, but I finally learned that my losses coincided with how many times I checked on them. Button them up in the fall and then forget about them until maybe once in February, just to see who you will have to feed in a couple of weeks.

3. I don't unwrap my hives anymore until the temperature stops going below freezing at night. This means that sometimes my hives stay wrapped until June. The bees that survive will likely be surviving in small clusters - they need all the help you can give them to get going.

4. Here in the north, I had to learn that my growing season is REALLY short, but filled with 18-20 hours of daylight (at the peak of summer). So, if you have the bees, they have TONS of foraging time when the flow is on. But, this means that your bees have to READY for that first flow. There won't be a lot of time for them to build up AND produce honey for you. It is often only one or the other. That is why you have to start feeding early and getting them to build.

This year, I finally seem to have gotten some of it right and will be getting a honey crop. I know of two other hobby beekeepers who overwinter here and they do quite well (one even does Ross Rounds).

Mike
 

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I agree with Ray 100% and additionally, one other thing I would point out is that winter bees generally live much longer than summer bees.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks guys, I'm going to give it a try. I don't mind feeding all winter if need be. I'm not going to take anything from them this year. I have kept the hive wrapped all summer and will leave it on. The problem is, I need to place an order for packaged bees in Jan. because there are no suppliers here. I guess I'll have to get some hives built and order bees, then I'll have some if I lose these this winter. Keith
 

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Strictly speaking, bees can not access syrup at temperatures below around 50F.

So, feeding over the winter won't help them if your temperatures drop and stay below 50F. Feeding overwinter will add moisture to the hive though - and that will be a problem.

The strategy behind early spring feeding in northern areas is less about getting syrup into them and more about having it available on the hive when temperatures do get above 50F in order to simulate an early spring flow. This will trigger brood rearing and early build up.

By feeding with a bucket feeder on top of the inner cover, you accomplish two things:

1. You place the syrup as close to the cluster as you can (because they are at the top of the hive at the end of winter), making it as easy as possible for them to access it.

2. You can feed them without opening in the box, disturbing the cluster or exposing them to weather.

I maintain a list of bee and queen suppliers with current prices and my own notes on their service and stock performance. It is an excel file. PM me an email address and I will send it to you.

Mike
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I was planning on feeding solid sugar on newspaper. I learned the hard way this spring. I tryed using a frame feeder and lost a package due to starvation. I switched to a top feeder and the second package did well. Do you think they could feed on solids if the hive is well insulated?
 

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Solid sugar is generally considered an emergency feeding strategy. I try to avoid feeding solid sugar if I can - there is some evidence that it promotes dysentery in the hive. They might be able to access the sugar all winter, but I would personally be reluctant to do it. The best feed is honey that you leave, second best is to feed 2:1 syrup like crazy.
 
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