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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
How you prep your bees for Winter depends on where you live and what sort of conditions you can expect to encounter. When I lived in central Texas, it was rare for the Winter temps to get below the freezing point. But, here in central Maine, I can expect Winter temps to go to -25*F below zero, and sometimes lower. How I prepare my hives makes a significant difference on how they perform when Spring comes...or if they even make it at all.

When I started learning about bees, I got my information from the largest beekeeper in Maine (Lincoln Sennet, proprietor of Swan's Honey). He advised me to insulate my hives. So, the first year, I did. and the second year, I did. I had a 100% survival rate when others were complaining about 'Winter losses'. I did great for the first few years. But, I am a bad beekeeper. I have a problem with procrastination. I got lax. One Winter I didn't get around to insulating my hives until late December, in a gale, at night, when the temperature was just barely above zero. Some of the hives still had baggies of sugar syrup with Fumagillin (Nosema prevention)...of course, I had been late putting these on and some hives had not consumed it.

The hives that had fully consumed their baggies were no problem, it took just a couple of seconds to rip the empty baggies out, flip the inner cover over and add a moisture absorbing board, then put the insulated winter cover on. The hives that had not consumed their baggies were a different story- it took time to carefully lift the baggies out without spilling the contents onto the bees. I can say with some certainty, that bees exposed to near-zero temps with a 40+mph wind for 30 seconds or so are unlikely survive the experience.

Then, having read some foolish opinions here about screened bottom boards, and bees not 'heating the hive' and not 'needing' insulation, I embarked on a series of experiments, both accidental and intentional.

A brief synopsis of those 'experiments':

If you live in an area where it gets very cold for long periods of time, it is better to insulate your hives.

Screened bottom boards may be useful in Summer, but it is better to swap them out for solid bottoms in Winter.

Fumagillin is extremely useful in preventing Nosema (but unless a new source has been found you may be SOL). Fortunately, I bought a substantial quantity when I learned that the only company making it was going out of business.

Insulate your hives *before* it gets *really cold, October, or November at the latest.

Bees in insulated hives are more able to move to stored honey than those that aren't. Clusters in un-insulated hives may starve despite having sufficient stores, because they can't get to them. On the other hand, clusters in insulated hives can even split and still survive.

Clusters in insulated hives are able to defend themselves against invading mice and shrews, where un-insulated hives provide a nice food source for them. Opening a hive in Spring to find it full of dead bees, and a fat rodent blinking at you inspires anger. Sub-note: wooden entrance reducers are not sufficient to keep out rodents, they will easily chew their way in.

Leaving insulation on into May results in higher populations as opposed to removing the insulation in March or April.

Leaving insulation on through June results in swarms.

Pictures of my insulation rigs:

https://www.beesource.com/forums/album.php?albumid=431
 

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This all makes sense to me. My limited experience is that top-insulated hives do better than uninsulated or badly insulated. By badly I mean the time I tried wrapping hives in plastic and so the bees got drenched with dripping water all winter.

I noted this year that I had taken the top insulation off too early, and I now plan to keep it on a month longer. I got excited by a few weeks of nice weather, and then we got more temps in the teens. I suspect keeping the insulation on would have kept a more stable internal temp and resulted in better brooding. Your comment that keeping insulation on longer leads to swarms is something I'll think about. Early swarms could just as easily mean chances for early splits.
 

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Fumagillin is extremely useful in preventing Nosema (but unless a new source has been found you may be SOL). Fortunately, I bought a substantial quantity when I learned that the only company making it was going out of business.
When Medivet went out of business the Canadian Honey Council picked up the DIN for Fumagillin, and had new manufacturing in place for last fall. It's available thru many distributors, one example here: https://dancingbeeequipment.com/collections/medication/products/fumagilin-b-96g

FWIW, Fumagillin does have an effective shelf life, and any that you picked up from Medivet before they went out of business will be shelf expired by now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
When Medivet went out of business the Canadian Honey Council picked up the DIN for Fumagillin, and had new manufacturing in place for last fall. It's available thru many distributors, one example here: https://dancingbeeequipment.com/collections/medication/products/fumagilin-b-96g

FWIW, Fumagillin does have an effective shelf life, and any that you picked up from Medivet before they went out of business will be shelf expired by now.
I definitely appreciate that info, thanks. I was wondering what I would do when the supply ran out. I did some other experiments inre fumagillin and nosema, and the results were not promising. Hives that didn't get it were hit hard. I think that where it gets very cold for a long time, with fewer opportunities for 'cleansing flights' gives them trouble.

My extra supply is frozen, which *should* extend the shelf-life, but it is good to know that more is available. Sounds like time for another experiment...but it will have to wait until I build my numbers back up. My job was taking far too many of my daylight hours, and my energy (I ain't no 'spring chicken' no more), and on top of that, the shrews hit me hard this past Winter. But, laid-off due to CoViD, I've got the time to work with them right now...and I'm planning on sitting tight here for as long as possible.

I'm also working on a better solution to the shrews as well.
 
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