I know its early to start thinking about this but.....here in Wyoming the winters take a big toll on bees, someone has told me to expect 85%losses of colonies. My question is rather than waste honey on hives that will likely die anyway, can I take the honey and try to overwinter on syrup? I know this may sounds rather cold but I just dont see wasting 70 lbs of good honey on a hive that does'nt have much of a chance anyway.
I think the moisture from sugar syrup over winter would give you a die out by spring. Condensation can be a hive killer in winter and adding sugar syrup to the environment will just make the moisture problems over winter worse. If you wish to pursue this thinking, then pull the honey off now and feed them now to built them up with cured sugar water honey before winter sets in. You'd have a better chance of them making it this way than you would using sugar water feeders over winter. My opinion.
I did time in Laramie, and it seems to me the biggest problem you have is the fridged winds. What I did is in Mid October, first snow usually around Halloween, was take foam board and cut it to fit the hive, spray painted it black, put on a solid bottom board with a smaller opening. For the years I was there, I never lost more than 1 or 2 of my 6-8 hives.
Thanks everyone for your responses. Yes the winds here in Wyoming are brutal in the winter! But the worse thing is that winter just never seams to end. We can have snow from September till april in my area,
Just to add a supporting vote, RayMarler is absolutely correct about liquid syrup [or uncured] causing condensation and moisture problems if provided in the hive overwinter. [You can read this in Beekeeper's Handbook--D. Sammataro, Avitabile] Feeding heavy syrup before cool autumn temperatures arrive [below daytime 50-60 degrees] so that the bees can reduce the moisture is the only alternative. Providing granulated sugar or fondant requires the bees to break cluster to reach it. This works in late winter or very early spring when there are some days with warm temperatures. Even though well cured/capped sugar syrup is good for bees in winter, it may not provide all of the essential nutrients that honey can.
Making plans based on an expected loss of 85% seems unwise. Surely you can do better than that. There is much in the literature about preparing hives for winter and bees are successfully over wintered in areas where there is even more snow than you have there.
Is this your first winter coming up? If so you should do some research on how to over winter bees in your climate. Do you have a state apiarist or association? If so you should be able to get lots of information on how to over winter from then.
I knew a beekeeper in Alaska that would kill off 200 colonies each winter and order new packages each spring. He would make Fire weed honey, the bees would work 23 hours a day in summer. Then he would spend all winter selling his honey (200lbs per hive) at $12.00 per pound. It sounds sad but it worked for him and the bees would die any ways over the long cold winter.
I am with Andrew on this. Regular 85% losses each winter seems like either an exaggeration or a beekeeper who doesn't help his bees prepare for winter properly.
I am in North Dakota - we are at least as cold and windy as Wyoming in the winter (temps w/ wind chill past -40F, wind speeds peaking at 70mph during storms) and April is a winter month here. Last year I had losses of 35%. The year before 65%.
My stats have gotten better each year and each year I have grown in my number of hives. I started out with 3 , second winter had 6 and this year will be 12. Much of what I learned about overwintering successfully, I learned right here.
I would say that there are a few things that bees need to overwinter successfully in the type of harsh winters we have:
1. Plenty of stored honey - at least one full deep of honey on top of them (this year, I am going to try to leave an additional medium as well)
2. An insulated top with an upper entrance (such as the All-Season inner cover at Honeyrun Apiaries). The bees I have lost have almost always been found dead as a sopping wet mass with plenty of honey left - not dry with their heads in the comb which would indicate starving.
3. Some sort of wind protection, either behind a windbreak of some kind or well-wrapped with roofing paper, surrounded by hay bales, thick hive wrap, etc.
4. A beekeeper who does NOT bother them during the winter (I learned this one the hard way). Once I take care of 1-3, I make myself leave them until mid-March - that is when early feeding with 1:1 can begin on with the survivors.
After that - I think that the rest is tweaking your set ups for your particular area. For instance, there is much debate about overwintering with open or closed bottom boards (and much disagreement). In my experiences here, my bees do much better with the bottom open - I don't know why, but they do - so my bottom boards stay open all winter.
Don't fear our northern winters! It gives the bees plenty of time to rest. If they make it and you feed early to get them rearing brood, you should see how strong the hives are in May!
Try feeding candy boards in the winter they are worth their weight in gold.
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