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What did you learn this winter?

9822 Views 63 Replies 49 Participants Last post by  Bob J
With this winter being a tough one on most beekeepers what did you learn?
Me I learned wrapping my hives may be a waste of time I have lost 9 so far and all where wrapped. The ones I did not wrap are doing fine.
I learned that sugar on the top the frames in the top deep does not mean the will not starve all mine but one starved out .
I learned SBBs work fine in the winter if you leave the insert in.
I learned my smallest nuc I figured would been dead by DEC. is still kicking and it had less then one frame of honey and just sugar on top and I had DBL. deeps freeze out with honey inches way.
I learned ya should never count that your home free till APRIL in these parts .I thought in the end of JAN. if they where alive you where home free . How wrong I was with in the last month I have lost 6 hives I have to learn more about bee nutrition :eek:
I have learned that spring it takes for ever when you love beekeeping.
Good luck in the spring of 2014 it almost here.
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But of the 40 hives most of my losses didn't have a candy board. Doing 16 lb of sugar and 3 cups of water. I view it as cheap Insurance. See any that is left will be melted down into 1/1 surup. Next year all will have one made up. A good way to use up old junk boxes. Cut the rot out and cut them 2" high or after two fingers.
I was thinking this morning that this winter is teaching just about every beekeeper something. Mother nature put the hammer down on bad beekeeping practices this winter. We all learned something, I'd be guessing...I am thinking more Carniolan, less Italian lines in the future. I was kicking myself in February thinking about all the winter packing material still in the garage. We learn more about our bees from our mistakes than from a big honey crop. Hoping for a Normal spring, summer, and fall this year, after a craaazzzy winter!
Although our winter didn't hold a candle to what you northerners was cold and long by our standards. Having said that, I wouldn't dare to offer any suggestions to those of you who get those drop dead, serious winters.
I recall Michael Palmer posting a video from his yards a few weeks ago. Still knee deep in snow but warm enough for cleansing flights. At that point, if my memory serves me, I believe his losses appeared very small. I wonder if they still are. And if so, what advice that experienced, dead serious wintering beekeeper would offer.
This year is my first year beeekeeping, so pretty much everything I see is new to me, right now.

Although I still have all three of by hives, I'm not done w/winter yet, so this is just preliminary:

Quilt boxes (@5 inches deep with pine shavings and fabric floor, large openings in shim above QB) have kept my hives dry and warm-on-top all through this fierce winter, so I think I'll do that again. Only slight concern: it may be possible to keep hives too dry, perhaps need to think of adding controlled intra-hive water source next year.

Heavy insulation (within and outside) my hives hasn't created any known issues, at least not known, yet.

If you plan on doing an OAV, brood-less period winter clean-up of phoretic varroa, you have to be ready to go in December. Waiting until January means you may not get adequate temps (+40F) before your bees start their first brood, even up here in Northern NY, which is wicked cold normally, and frightful this year.

Bees love Lauri's sugar cakes and they are easy to use and restock even in very cold weather because you can just crack the boxes open and slip a new chunk in.

If you are feeding, check and restock on the first possible day you can rather than waiting for the "ideal" day. Sometimes the expected "ideal" day never materializes and you go back into the deep freeze without knowing your feed is OK. I decided, in advance, to follow this protocol and found that the "ideal" day failed to happen twice over the course of six restocking intervals. But I was OK, because I'd done it on the first possible day. Whew!

"Dead bees" on your bottom board may not actually be dead, so just make sure the opening is clear and leave them in the hive for the morgue bees to deal with later.

Bees do warm the air in their hive, at least at the top under QBs. My instant read thermometer tells me so.

The biggest unresolved issue for me is the outcome of my heavy insulation - the next several weeks will have to pass before I can assess it fully until, once again, I can see into my hives with more than a small mirror.

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After my losses from the drought of 2012 going into last years Winter I was determined to do things differently this Winter. I modified all my Mann Lake SBB so I could put solid 1/2" bottoms in them and began making my own SBBs that I can place 1/2" foam insulation in during Winter. I then purchased 6 sheets of the pink foam insulation and cut these to a size that would cover a deep and medium box combination and wrapped these sheets around my hives. I found three 4'x8' sheets of the insulation will cover 11 hives with some left over. It maybe a bit pricey at first but I am hoping all in all it lasts longer than tar paper or other methods I have tried. I also ordered the deep inner covers from Brushy Mountain and placed emergency sugar in every hive that was less than two years old which also added the small top entrances for ventilation. I lost one hive out of 11 and after inspecting it I am sure it was from a queen failure and not a Winter dead out. We had some brutal temps this year but unless some die off tonight with this newest storm I am pretty happy my losses were so small this Winter.

I learned last Winter not to take the season lightly.
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I learned that Yogi Berra was right: "It ain't over 'til it's over". It ain't over yet, forecast - 3 inches of snow tonight/tomorrow morning.
I learned that I need to learn how to ensure a larger cluster in the fall. My hives are still alive, but cluster is a lot smaller than it should be. If the make it the next few weeks, I expect buildup will be slow.
Backfill brood nest, colonies that started winter in bottom box doing much better. Most colonies didn't even make it to the top honey.
Sugar only for starvation !!! So far no sugar this season.
I wouldn't dare to offer any suggestions to those of you who get those drop dead, serious winters.
I learned that bees will survive in a winter like we just had. We had our first warm day, since last fall, for bees to fly. That's holding it for over 4 months. They weren't buried in snow and we had record breaking cold throughout the whole season.
I learned--the hard way--that Alabama really isn't Florida and I can't keep hives the way I used to. Baby, it gets COLD up here!

I learned that bees will survive in a winter like we just had. guys had a pretty cool winter. What general advice do you have for those experiencing high losses?
I learned that Yogi Berra was right: "It ain't over 'til it's over". It ain't over yet, forecast - 3 inches of snow tonight/tomorrow morning.
Ain't really over here in SC yet either.
Ain't really over here in SC yet either.
Nor GA.....yet
I learned that I need to get the supers off earlier in the fall even if they aren't capped and leave more of the fall honey for the bees. I learned that you can't treat in August and think your done because the mites numbers soar in fall. I will always use quilt boxes from now on. I learned a lot about how they over winter because I messed with them so but I also learned that I need to stop messing with them so much. :eek:
I also learned that spring can't come soon enough for's torture! guys had a pretty cool winter. What general advice do you have for those experiencing high losses?
Cool?? Nah, more like downright cold! Lots of nights in the -15-25 range. Days below zero.

It just goes to show that cold doesn't kill bees. My advice is to identify what really did kill the bees. When I read the posts about a colony with no bees but lots of honey, or with clusters that got stuck inches from honey, I don't blame the long cold winter. I blame the bees or the beekeeper or parasites and pathogens. My first response to these folks is what happened to the cluster? If the colony that got stuck had a larger cluster, they wouldn't have got stuck…they would have been on that honey. The colony that disappeared with honey in the hive…do you know how to autopsy a readout? Don't blame winter, it wasn't her fault.

Sometimes the diagnosis is easy. On my trip this weekend a local beekeeper wanted me to look at three colonies that died in the winter. None were killed by the winter. One had a drone layer in the fall, one starved with a big cluster, and one had AFB. All were dead before winter, even though there were still bees present when they were put away for the winter.

And what about those colonies with small clusters that got stuck. They begin the winter with a sufficient cluster size and dwindle. Why? Old bees? Were they unable to raise a large enough cluster of young bees before shutdown? Because the cluster was predominantly old bees at shutdown, by mid-winter those bees are dead and only a small cluster remains. Was it a poor fall flow or parasite issues or nosema or late swarming or poor queens or inferior bees who knows. That's up to the beekeeper to find out.

But don't just blame winter. That's too easy and you won't learn anything about the real cause.
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Provide more ventilation. The only hive I lost out of 6, had no ventilation in the inner cover. I made the cover, with no ventilation and tried it compared to some standard ones and ones that have 3 times as much ventilation cutout area. The no vent hive died. There was a very small cluster of dead, mildewed bees in the box. My strongest hives have the most ventilation.
I learned about what size a cluster needs to be here to get through a cold winter. I learned how little stores my Buckfast bees consumed versus my MNH mutts and approximately how much stores each needs to make it through.

I learned that if I want to try to save a queen whose cluster has almost all died out I need to cage her so the new bees don't ball and kill her.

I learned that checking them makes them expend energy so I only should do it if I have to. The less I mess with them the better.

I learned that the nectar that didn't get capped in the fall takes on water from the freeze cycles and can start to ferment, probably helped by the one or two SHB that were in the hive. Bees consuming that fermenting honey get dysentery which is a death sentence to a hive holed up during a cold winter. In the future I will remove uncapped stores before the cold sets in for winter.
I learned that going into winter with LOW mite counts and plenty of stores will get your bees thru winter in good shape.
Top ventilation isn't necessary. Last May I installed my first package into a Dadant size hive with a solid inner cover, no vent hole, no top entrance. I meant to change it out, but never got around to it... Those Bees are doing fine. They also have used very little of their stores.
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