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Knowing it varies depending on a lot of factors. For keepers who have experimented with different methods, what have you found is the most effective overwintering practice for long cold winters-(climates). Taking for granted that there is adequate honey storage- what type of wrappings or insulation, and ventilation with drilled holes, shims, etc. have you found works best?
 

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I think one should have a reduced lower entrance down to about 1 1/2" wide and 3/8" high, no open screened bottom, an upper entrance of a 3/4" hole bored into the top box or a notched inner cover with the notch facing down, at least 2" foamboad on top of the inner cover or on top of the outer cover, and a tar paper wrap. I also think that in the north having a brood nest of more than just one deep box would be beneficial because the cluster would not have to be so close to the entrance where it would be draftier. With more than one brood box the cluster most always will spend the winter up higher away from the entrance by choice.
 

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I am now wintering with 3 deeps (suggested by UofMN). Most folks in central MN use two deeps and shoot for 120 pounds of honey/syrup, but that may not be enough this winter. I also wrap with the silver bubble wrap on three sides (N,W,E) and then black roofing felt all around. Add a deep box full of wood chips above for insulation and moisture absorption. Entrance reducer on smallest notch and a notch in the inner cover (bottom side) for an upper entrance. Even with all that, I am still rather concerned about the survival rate. More than 60 nights below 0F, at least 30 have been -20F or lower, wind chill (if it matters) much lower...
 

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The need for insulating (or otherwise wrapping hives) is, I think, entirely a local affair.

It seems to me that the point of insulation (as opposed to roofing paper which is mostly a windbreak) is at least as much to keep the hives steadily cold, as to lower the energy-cost to the bees during extra-cold periods. I see it as a buffer from the temperature swings of winter.

Here's what's in place in my tiny, 3-hive, apiary:

1) I have foam insulation panels along the walls of the hives (2" on front, 3" on back, 1.5" tucked up into the telecover and @4" on the sides, including what's inside the hives - see #4, below);

2) Quilt boxes filled with shavings atop each hive, with 2" eke with two 1.5" open vents above;

3) Wool blankets wrapped around the sides, back and top of the hives, loosley covered with a tarp for rain protection;

4) Solid pine follower boards and internal foam insulation panels inside the hives replacing undrawn, empty frames.

5) Assortment of plastic political signs tucked under the rachet straps to act as windbarriers in front of the lower and upper entrances and in very cold weather a blanket curtain that extends down from the roof and loosely covers the upper entrances;

6) Shim under the bottom box to raise it up and provide a draft skirt.

Of these six strategies, I am most comfortable with recommending #1 and #2. Not that the others are unsuccessful, it's just that they are unproven, and possibly problematic if not combined with the others.

My insulation is just foam insulation panels cut to fit the sides (taking into account the increased dimensions created by the panels themselves so I don't have gaps at the corners), and along the backs and fronts of my winter hive stand, where my three hives have been set as close to each other as possible. The overhang on the telecovers makes them not actually touch, so I have inserted a piece of foam (2 X 3/4", or a single 2" thick piece) between the hives to take up the space. I have single 2" panels behind each hive and then a second layer (1") that spans all three hives outside of that (on the northern, windy side). On the front I also have a single sheet of 2" foam spanning all three hives. It sits on the raised side arms of my bottom board, sheltering the entrance, but not blocking it. It extends upwards to just under the upper vent hole on each hive. One of my hives has an extra box, so I added an extension to go up to its vent hole. The only downside to the foam is securing it as the panels tend to flop around annoyingly during installation just when you are rushing to get things buttoned back up. And the panels interfere with easy access to the sticky board slot (which may not be important to everybody, but it is to me.) I painted the front panel to match the colors of the hives (they were recently moved so I wanted to have as many orientation cues, as possible). The paint caused a slight warp on the unpainted side. I will be painting the backside, just to flatten it out, when I get a chance. While the rachet straps do snug the foam up to the hives, there is by no means the sealed-in-plastic type of air-infiltration blocking that wrapping in plastic-wrapped insulation might create. That is not a defect, but a feature, in my view.

Of all the things I did, I think the quilt boxes are the most satisfactory. Inexpensive and simple to make (empty box of any depth, with fabric stapled tightly on the bottom as a floor, filled with dry wood shavings) and easy to install and remove. I have an eke above with two wide-open vent holes under the telecovers. I have no moisture dripping down on my bees, and the hive is very well ventilated despite having (within the bee space) only very small bottom and top entrances, just finger-tip sized holes.

The blanket wrapping was done after I moved the hives in early Dec. as a tool to help keep the hive environment warm enough to enable them to re-form their cluster. But when the extreme cold began right after that, I just left the blankets on. I have removed them several times to check for moisture, but have found none in spite of the fact that they are over-draped with a plastic tarp which is cinched down around them to keep the from blowing off. The bottom edges of all the coverings are free, but even up under the top surface on the tarp, I am not seeing any moisture accumulation. I have 17 blankets of various thicknesses wrapped around the hives, so this not a thin covering, but I have no idea what the R-value of wool is.

Inside my hives, late in the fall, I removed empty frames and replaced them with solid pine follower boards and filled the space between the follower boards and the hive walls with foam panels, tightly fitted. I have since learned that sometimes bees will chew on foam, but mine have not, so far. In the future I would protect the foam in some way. Both the follower boards and the foam are as deep as each box, eliminating any horizontal access space and creating a solid vertical inner wall within the hive. I initially did this to create a 5/6 frame nuc-sized space within a regular hive and I liked how it worked so well that I went ahead and removed empty frames form my other hives, as well. It made the interior space within my hives smaller for the winter. I do think it will add, perhaps significantly, to the critical timing of my spring chores to extract the panels at just the right point to avoid propting swarming by the reduced size of the cavities. Since I have all at least double deeps, this means I will have to open everything up clear down to the bottom. As far as wintering, though, I am happy with what I see so far, but the spring un-doing plan is still untested. Maybe I'll be sorry later.

The political signs and the extra blannket-curtain over the top entrance are just extreme-weather buffers, I add and subtract them as the days change. I know that when I have the curtain in place the air just outside the upper vent hole is considerably warmed by the barriers. It's my "quick-check" point as I can just slip my bare fingers in under the wool curtain and can tell at once my hives are warm and alive.

One thing I have noticed is that somewhat contrary to what I've read about winter temps inside the hive, my own are not as cold as I was led to expect. Even 2 -3 inches away from my cluster my temps are in the low 90s. And above the cluster, even 3-5 inches above it, the air temps are in the 70s. Perhaps I have created hives that are too-warm (I do have a small amount of brood, but so do some local hives without any insulation beyond roofing paper.) I am feeding sugar cakes, but not because the hives feel (to me) particularly light, but because I'm afraid my inexperience makes me a poor judge of their weight.

The draft skirt below the bottom box, is the thing I would probably not bother repeating. One of the three hives drew some comb down into the space on the day or two after the move (when the hive lower entrance was completely blocked and dark) though it has not progressed since the ntrance was re-opened and it's not particularly in the way. But I don't see much benefit, either, and I think having exterior wind baffles would serve the purpose just as well. The one plus is that it provides enough room to insert an articulating mirror which allows me to peer up through the combs to check on the bees' coverage of them.

Bear in mind that I am a first year beekeeper, in a cold climate (northern NY, z4), who was determined to do anything I could think of to care for the bees this first winter. Perhaps much of this is overkill and, hopefully, none is actually killing them. Time will tell over the next five or six weeks. But we've gotten through an unusually harsh and long-lasting, two month cold "snap", and I still have my bees.

If pictures would help, I could post some.

Enj.
 

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For full size hives, I don't do much of anything. I leave them enough honey and that is about it. I don't wrap them.

I do keep experimenting for nucs, however. I've tried a lot of things. A little bit of heat input seems to help with condensation and those bitter cold nights. Insulation on the top and bottom helps. I cluster them all together which allows me to just insulate the ends. Nucs do seem to die often enough on those bitter cold -10 F to -20 F nights especially when they last for weeks (as they have this year).For full size hives, I don't do much of anything. I leave them enough honey and that is about it. I don't wrap them.

I do keep experimenting for nucs, however and some of that is probably applicable. I've tried a lot of things. A little bit of heat input seems to help with condensation and those bitter cold nights. Insulation on the top and bottom helps. I cluster them all together which allows me to just insulate the ends. Nucs do seem to die often enough on those bitter cold -10 F to -20 F nights especially when they last for weeks (as they have this year).

My first year trying to overwinter nucs it was ten frame medium nucs on an inner cover with a double screen over the hole. The notch in the inner cover made the entrance for the nuc. The humidity from the strong colony below did several of them in. The next year I made eight frame medium nucs and stacked them up with a solid bottom (1/4" luan, no screen) and I just had them wrapped on all sided in insulation:

http://www.bushfarms.com/images/ApartmentNucsWintering.JPG
http://www.bushfarms.com/images/ApartmentNucsWrappedInFoam.jpg

Again, the biggest problem I had was all the humidity. Wrapping didn't seem to allow it to escape at all. The second problem was that it was an extreme winter and the nucs died out from the bottom up with the ones that got more rising heat lasting the longest. Still half of them made it through.
The next year I did this:
http://www.bushfarms.com/images/OverwinteringNucs1.jpg
http://www.bushfarms.com/images/OverwinteringNucs2.jpg

With a space heater set at 70 F inside. They did fine until some of the jars leaked and drowned some of them. But then the winter wasn't much of a winter. I fed pollen patties and some of them swarmed in March. My theory was my observation hive always seems to get through at 70 F and even raise a few patches of brood. Also that the dry heat from the space heater would drive out some of the moisture instead of feeding in more (as a hive below seems to do).

The last few winters I'm doing a similar setup, but I don’t feed them syrup, I try to give them enough honey, fill in with dry sugar if I don’t have enough, left off the one by eight spacer on top and turned the heater all the way down to about 45 F.

Some pictures here:
http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnucs.htm#overwinternucs

and powerpoint here:
www.bushfarms.com/HASWinteringNucs.ppt
 

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I have insulated a number of ways including wrapping, stacking, and hay bale packing, wind blocks etc and find that it makes very little difference on winter survival.

A good cluster with good stores and 4% mite infestation can survive a New England winter in a cardboard box.
 

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Michael, so you have been getting better success wintering the nucs the way the last pictures show (except for eliminating the 1 x 8 rim on top)? You have just been putting the 2" foamboard directly on top of the nucs? I'll bet the heater ran most of the time during the winter when set at 70 degrees? I think setting it at 45 degrees as you do now would be a good temperature and less running of the heater. If you need to feed sugar then, how do you do it with no feed rim anymore?
 

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>Michael, so you have been getting better success wintering the nucs the way the last pictures show (except for eliminating the 1 x 8 rim on top)?

If you go to http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnucs.htm#overwinternucs you can see what I'm doing now including feeding sugar. The setup is a lot of nucs clustered together in various states. All are eight frame boxes. All are stacked in such a way that they end up exactly the same height. In other words each stack is composed of two bottoms (which can double as a top) two boxes and a top. If it is two singles, they are, from top to bottom, a bottom, a box of bees, a bottom/top, a box of bees and a cover. If it is a double box of bees then it is a bottom, two boxes of bees, a cover and a bottom/top. This is so it's the same height. The bottom that is on top is just to fill the space. Depending on the size of cluster and the amount of stores, the single might have enough honey, or it might have the side filled with dry sugar. If it's a single box of bees bursting with bees but not enough stores, there might be newspaper on the top bars and sugar on top. If it's a two box hive with enough stores, it may just be two boxes of bees and frames of stores. If it's just a little light I might put a frame feeder in and fill it full of sugar...

The whole cluster of boxes had a sheet of styrofoam on top of that held down by bricks.

> You have just been putting the 2" foamboard directly on top of the nucs?

Yes.

> I'll bet the heater ran most of the time during the winter when set at 70 degrees? I think setting it at 45 degrees as you do now would be a good temperature and less running of the heater.

There was more dead air space with the first setup and too much humidity. The heat tends to drive off the humidity somewhat. But yes, I think 45 F is better.

> If you need to feed sugar then, how do you do it with no feed rim anymore?

See the pictures at the above link.
 

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I wrapped half of my hives in 3/4" ridgid foam boards leaving ample ventillation throughout the hive. This winter has been surprisingly cold with an abundance of snow that really hasn't melted at all. The hives that were insulated survived, the ones that weren't didn't.
 

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This has been an exceptionally cold winter. Not as extreme as I've seen--I've seen -40 F in Nebraska more than one winter back in the 80's, and we haven't had the extremes, but consistently cold. We have had a lot of subzero F and a lot of single digits when it's not subzero. Maybe I should have insulated this year. Hard to say. I still have mixed feelings because of the condensation issues. But then my hives are also clustered together in groups of 14 hives so they don't have all four sides exposed.
 

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I think condensation from overinsulating can be an issue when trying to make your hives too tight. When I do use foamboard to insulate I don't worry about covering every fraction of an inch of the hive with insulation and get carried away taping up all the seams and things like that. I just try to cover the bulk of the exposed sidewalls. The moisture from the bees respiration when consuming stores has to get outside through cracks and crevices or excessive condensation will certainly happen.
 

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my belief is that it is most important to keep condensation from forming on the 'ceiling' of the hive and dripping back down on the cluster. insulating the top and leaving at least one of the outside walls uninsulated might allow the moisture to collect on those colder walls.
 

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That is why I started using 4" of foamboard on top this year instead of the usual 2". It seems like overkill, but with the extreme cold we are having this winter up here, condensation is more of an issue than it is normally.
 

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All I can add to this is based on my experience with foam insulation, not with beekeeping. You will notice Michael and the others are using the pink foam insulation. Blue should be the same stuff. Be aware that the yellowish type made of polyisocyanurate (some people call it polyurethane foam) can't handle UV exposure, and will turn brown and crumble to dust in short order. White insulations may be pure polystyrene (no UV inhibitors) and also don't take UV well. Don't use it exposed like that. The pink and blue will hold up against UV for considerably longer.

The 2" stuff is usually rated around R-10. A 1" nominal thickness pine board (typical super material) will be roughly R-1 (it will be lower if damp). So going from R-1 to R-11 is a huge jump. Thinner insulation will still make a big difference. The bees would benefit from even 1/2" foam. If you want to try it but are faced with a massive amount to haul, thinner may be enough.

If any of you want to try measuring heat loss out of hives, I've been working on a cheap way to make a heat flow sensor.
 

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leave them plenty of honey, and treat for mites early enough to get a good cluster of winter bees, and get ready for a wonderful spring.
 

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I was late this year getting the hives winterized, like middle of December. A few hives had moisture in them then... I wrapped and insulated the hives last winter, and the tar paper wrap evidently made it too tight, as there was moisture and mold in several hives. So this winter I just shoved hives together where I could, added 1" foam board between the covers, with the notch down for an upper entrance below the foam. A few hives even have open screened bottom boards. A friend winters several hundred hives in the "thumb" of Michigan with open SBB's every winter. This winter might test that theory though. I'll know more next month when I check on them.
 

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One thing that appears to be a common thread is the condensation/moisture issue. Has anyone who uses quilt boxes had a moisture issue, at all? And conversely, does simply insulating the top completely stop the condensation?

For me at least, I know the quilt box is transmitting moisture out of the hive because I get a very small quantity of it above the quilt box and collected under the insulated telecover. The bottom of the insulation acts as a condensation plane. Keep in mind that the space above the quilt box (and still below the cover) has two wide-open 1.5" openings, which let in frigid ambient air. The shavings got slightly perceptibly wet when I had only one vent open, opening the second one solved the issue. The fabric on the floor shows no evidence of any moisture accumulation or palpable dampness. I regularly check it.

Of all the things I have tried to do for my bees this year, the quilt boxes are the most-satisfactory project. They work even better than I expected (moisture management PLUS added insulation) and seem to have no downside that I can see.

For a large apiary, like MB's, quilt boxes might not be feasible (though may be for the nucs it might be worth it) but for a small apiary of, maybe 1-20 hives, it wouldn't be that hard to fashion some kind of winter-season, quilt box temporarily repurposed from any size empty box as a complement to other types of hive insulating/wrapping which might tend to promote condensation due to reduce airmovement through the hive box sides.

Enj.
 

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>Anyone ever try overwintering in a greenhouse type structure ?

Bad idea. There have been many discussions. Try a search. Short version, bees navigate on polarized light. They will die in great numbers pounding into the sides of the greenhouse...

>One thing that appears to be a common thread is the condensation/moisture issue. Has anyone who uses quilt boxes had a moisture issue, at all? And conversely, does simply insulating the top completely stop the condensation?

Bees produce gallons of water over the course of the winter. No quilt box can absorb that much. You need to let it out somewhere. The quilt box will provide some insulation (but dry insulation is more valuable) and it may control the top ventilation (depending on how it's set up) but a small upper entrance will accomplish the latter and some styrofoam on the lid will provide dry insulation for the top. A quilt box is probably an improvement over no top entrance and no insulation.
 

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One thing that appears to be a common thread is the condensation/moisture issue. Has anyone who uses quilt boxes had a moisture issue, at all? And conversely, does simply insulating the top completely stop the condensation?

For me at least, I know the quilt box is transmitting moisture out of the hive because I get a very small quantity of it above the quilt box and collected under the insulated telecover. The bottom of the insulation acts as a condensation plane. Keep in mind that the space above the quilt box (and still below the cover) has two wide-open 1.5" openings, which let in frigid ambient air. The shavings got slightly perceptibly wet when I had only one vent open, opening the second one solved the issue. The fabric on the floor shows no evidence of any moisture accumulation or palpable dampness. I regularly check it.

Of all the things I have tried to do for my bees this year, the quilt boxes are the most-satisfactory project. They work even better than I expected (moisture management PLUS added insulation) and seem to have no downside that I can see.

For a large apiary, like MB's, quilt boxes might not be feasible (though may be for the nucs it might be worth it) but for a small apiary of, maybe 1-20 hives, it wouldn't be that hard to fashion some kind of winter-season, quilt box temporarily repurposed from any size empty box as a complement to other types of hive insulating/wrapping which might tend to promote condensation due to reduce airmovement through the hive box sides.

Enj.
Condensation is a balancing act, the bees need a moderate amount of moisture in the hive, too much and not enough is both bad. Top insulation doesn't stop condensation in the hive, it changes the dew point so that the moisture collects on the sides instead of condensation forming on the top.

Most winters I have more issues keeping enough moisture in the hive than trying to get too much out. Just like in the summer when bees need a source of water, they need a source in the winter as well, the condensation is that source. I have read articles that state that bees have to re-constitute honey (with water) in order to consume it, I don't know how accurate that is though. But that would help explain why some bees starve with honey stores all around them.
 
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