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Last winter I had all my hives die out, even though they still had plenty of stores--the honey was just out of reach of the cluster. There may have been other factors besides the cold, and I've addressed them. This winter I'm considering wrapping my hives with black roofing felt. They have top entrances so I think they will have good ventilation. The reason I'm considering wrapping the hives is to get a solar gain on sunny but cold days, so the bees will have more opportunities to break from the cluster and move honey where needed, or move to the honey.

I was wondering if any of the people who keep bees where it gets below zero for extended periods have had problems with hives dying while still having stores? If so, were they wrapped? Have you had better luck wrapped or unwrapped?

About the only downside I can see to wrapping is that the black exterior may radiate heat away at night more than the white painted hives. But since they are only heating the cluster, does it matter if the surrounding air loses more heat, if the bees are still warm in their cluster? I would really like to hear what you all think; winter was very hard on a lot of us around here in the Ozarks.
 

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We have always wrapped our hives with "tar paper?. We use bottom entrances (screened in the winter to keep mice/voles out) but add a 1/4 inch ventilation hole in the upper super for the winter (plug it come spring when the paper comes off). We often get thaws &/or freezing rain so regularily remove the snow to prevent a crust from forming over the entrances/keep the flow of air going. Also put a fold of tar paper over the upper hole to keep snow out (bent a piece of tar paper so that it sits about 3/4 inch out from the super - stapled both sides so that it forms a tunnel). Haven't had any losses the past few years, other than a hive that swarmed late & new queen wasn't successful at coming back from mating.
We also put insulation on top of the inner cover (with holes cut to match the existing opening) - have been using a couple of layers of "thinsulate" material the past few years.
 

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I am a long way north of you but I am a firm believer in a wrapped non drafty brood nest. I like a closed off bottom and an inch hole bored in the upper bood box which I see as adequate for ventilation and entry/exit. Top insulation is a big help IMO. That way water does not freeze on the cover and drip down and chill and wet the bees which kills them. Bees are experts at ventilation but do it best when they control that air flow. I think one entry is best. Good luck, just one mans experience.

As far as starving right next to stores, mountain camp sugar on top is a wonderful insurance policy. Sugar is much cheaper than bees.
 

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I've always felt the primary purpose of roofing felt or tar paper if you like was as a wind break. The dark color may have some solar heating benefits.
 

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Tar paper is a good choice. The solar gains coupled with slowing down drafts helps. Tar paper will not absorbe and wick away heat from the hive at night. Insulation board above the inner cover is a must do.
As far as solar gains on a sunny day.... check out our FB page. We performed a solar gain temperature test on the surface of tar paper last winter. Let's just say you'll be amazed.
This winter I plan on aligning the hives in a line. I will be wrapping the south facing entrance side, wrapping the the other sides with straw bales and installing metal roof panels to keep everything dry. I'm not going to chance another winter die off.
 

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Last winter I had all my hives die out, even though they still had plenty of stores--the honey was just out of reach of the cluster. There may have been other factors besides the cold, and I've addressed them.
And what do you believe the other factors were?

I wrap every colony I have...foam on the inner cover and tarpaper wrap around the hive. I see the occasional colony that starves with honey in a nearby comb. I don't think it's a case of death by cold/starvation, but rather...

Why did the colony lose enough of their cluster so they were no longer in contact with their honey?
 

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I wrap my hives every year with tar paper. I am a hobbyist, but have been adding hives every year. In 2012, I went into Winter with 4 hives and came out with 4 hives. In 2013, I went into Winter with 11 hives and came out with 10 hives. Fellow beeks in our local club reported losses of anywhere from 50% to 100% last year. None of them wrapped their hives. Coincidence? Who knows. We had a brutal Winter this past year in Northeast PA. I remember walking out to my hives on days below 10 degrees F and placing my hand on the side of the hives and feeling the warmth of the sun. Ventilation is also very important. I cut the tar paper around my bottom entrances and use popsicle sticks under my inner covers to give a 1/16 inch gap. I treat for mites in late July when I remove my honey supers, feed in early August and feed again in early October with HBH added. It's been working for me. This year, it looks like I'll be wintering 18 hives.
 

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>I was wondering if any of the people who keep bees where it gets below zero for extended periods have had problems with hives dying while still having stores?

Yes. Sometimes they do. They did it 40 years ago. They do it today. Someone, I'm sure, will blame the Varroa mites...

> If so, were they wrapped?

I have tried wrapping and was not impressed. The moisture was the problem.

>Have you had better luck wrapped or unwrapped?

I've had about the same luck as far as survival. But the equipment stayed a lot drier unwrapped...
http://www.bushfarms.com/beeslazy.htm#stopwrapping
 

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Wrapping hives with tar paper may be effective for blocking wind, but black tar paper is not going to result in any net solar heat gain over a 24 hour period. Yes, black objects capture solar heat better than white objects while the sun is shining, but black objects also lose heat (re-radiate) faster than white objects at night. There is no net heat gain for an object simply from being black over a 24 hour period.

It is a complicated subject, but here is a simple example ...
Similarly, black asphalt in a parking lot will be hotter than adjacent gray sidewalk on a summer day, because black absorbs better than gray. The reverse is also true—black radiates better than gray. Thus, on a clear summer night, the asphalt will be colder than the gray sidewalk, because black radiates the energy more rapidly than gray.

Further explanation at this link:

https://www.inkling.com/read/college-physics-openstax-college-1st/chapter-14/14-7-radiation

 

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Winter beekeeping HVAC engenders endless debate. I don't claim to understand it. When I first bought some 10 frame boxes I painted them a dark brown, and I have found that they work pretty well at absorbing the sun in the winter; Now, if I am overwintering bees in 10 frame equipment I make sure that a dark brown box is on top. Last winter I didn't wrap, and all 4 hives in double deeps made it through. The ventilated cover above them contains 2-3 inches of styrofoam and an upper entrance of about 1/4 inch by 3/8 inch as a humidity exit.
The nucs benefit from the heat of sister colonies. Last winter, I lost the solitary 5/5 nuc, the "head and shoulder" colony, and a 5 over 5 over 5 colony. The others all made it.
One thing I think that is key is to not disturb the bees once you are done feeding and weighing. I suspect breaking the propolis seal is dangerous for them.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxjDa6mB_co
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
And what do you believe the other factors were?
I will be improving the windbreaks for the hives. Last winter I was counting on the hives having woods behind them with several cedars to slow the wind. It did block quite a bit compared to being in the open, but this winter I will be using sheeting of some kind.

I am also keeping a better eye on the varroa count by doing sugar shakes. Before, I had screened bottom boards and was going by the mite drop I saw. I now believe this gave a false indication of a low mite population. There were a lot of dead bees in the bottom of each hive. The clusters that were left looked like they were too small--they were trying to cover a little bit of brood as the queens began laying, and I think they couldn't get to the honey during one of the extended cold periods. This may have been due to varroa, I honestly don't know. I didn't see any signs of disease, just dead bees.

For future dead-outs, I will consider sending a sample to the USDA laboratory if there doesn't seem to be a likely cause.

I have switched to top entrances and solid bottom boards. I think this will cut down on drafts. My SBBs were closed off for winter, but I doubt they were truly air tight. While I don't think ventilation was a factor, top entrances should eliminate any problems with moisture.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·

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Adrian Quiney WI-

It appears that you have a shim with multiple holes located underneath the inner cover on your double deep hives. I believe these holes allow moisture to escape the hive, but how do clusters fare with the cold air once they reach the top of the boxes towards the end of winter?
 

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>I have made the migratory style covers with shims as pictured on your website. With these, do you think moisture would still be a problem if a hive is wrapped?

Last time I tried to wrap I did a group of hives. The wood was soaking wet all winter. I considered that a problem.

> How much, if any, do you reduce the entrances on these covers

Only about half of mine are reduced. I should probably reduce them all. I use a piece of screen molding that is about 2" short of the width of the opening and has one nail in the center to make a pivot.
 

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I think a common mis-conception about insulating hives, folks think it's to 'keep them warm'. But that's not the case. Reference the chart below, which has temperature plots from one probe out in the free air outside, and another in an insulated, but unheated, garage. Temperatures are in degrees Celsius.



The purpose of insulating is to reduce the temperature fluctuations between day and night, essentially make the temperature in the hive look more like the blue line, and less like the red line. Insulation will keep the hive closer to a constant temperature, with less fluctuation thru the day. It is not meant to 'keep it warm' or 'warm it up', but instead 'keep the temperature constant'.
 

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I agree that insulating helps moderate the rate of temp change inside the hive when ambient air temp drops and rises.

Find the interior temp of the hive just above the inner cover is 20 - 30F warmer than outside ambient. The 30F differential occurs at colder ambients and I attribute it to the extra heat that the cluster generates to keep interior cluster temp at ?90F. The interior hive temp drops somewhat and the clustered bees then generate more heat.

I do add black building paper over styrofoam. I have tried styrofoam on three sides with none on the front and black paper. On a sunny yet cold day, it seemed to fool the bees into cleansing flights and many did not make there way back to the hive.

With styroam on all sides under the black paper I suspect the benefit of black paper is limited. A little thermal gain and somewhat of a wind barrier. I don't fasten the top of the black paper with tape and must be getting enough ventilation so exterior of hive does not get damp.

I use two 1/2 by 3/8 side bottom entrances and a 1 1/2 by 3/8 top entrance. I also have a 3/4 round hole in a feed rim just above frames. Get good ventilation of moisture out through round hole and 1 1/2 opening. They build up with frost in colder temps from the moisture from the bees.

Also have 2 inches of styrofoam in telescopic cover.

I also experimented with quilt boxes above my inner covers last winter. All in all, seemed to keep hive interior very dry. Moisture build up on side walls is not all bad as it is a source of winter water.

Have had the cluster starve with feed in frames nearby. Need to ensure you have 10 full frames in top vrood going into winter. I add sugar candy blocks on top of the frames on a warmer day in late December as exta food and a source of food so cluster does not get stranded. Lost one out of four hives that I attribute to deformed wing virus.
 

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I'm in northern NY and in my one year of wintering bees I had no losses, despite having small-ish first year colonies and minimal stores (augmented by sugar bricks.)

But I have spent much time thinking about winter hive protection. I hyperinsulate (inside and outside the hive). I have quilt boxes on top (as well as insulaton in the covers.) I have substantially reduced entrances top and bottom, with wind baffles. My hive colors vary from light yellow to medium purple. I don't wrap with tar paper, but I did cover loosely with wool blankets (though I think that factor was negligible, more for beekepeer anti-stress than for the bees). I have up to 4" (counting innner and outer insulation panels) of foam insulation on the sides, front and backs of the hives. I had wind and light baffle panels set over the lower entrances. I add and subtract the insulation over the course of the winter (but not daily).

My hives stayed very dry all winter. They also stayed surprisngly warm inside (I measured that), given the extreme temps we had last winter. But most of all I think their temperatures rose and fell over long periods (days and weeks), not on a daily or hourly basis. And this factor, I think, is really important for allowing the bees to handle the extremes as it gives them time to move around on the stores and prevents them from flying out in non-survivable weather because they are tricked into it by the false-warmth of solar-heated surface.

Perhaps it was just an unsusal congruence with how I set up my hives and last year's weather and temp patterns that worked so well. Another winter might not be the same. But my preparations of the hives will be the same: insulation inside, making the size of hive cavity taller and thinner than it would be in ordinary 10-frame boxes. A shavings-filled quilt box on top with wide open ventilation above. An insulated cover. Panels on the back, sides, and front of the hives. And because they are arranged to stand together on the winter stand, foam insulation between the hives. Baffled and reduced entrances, top and bottom. Little cardboard panels over the upper entrance to moderate the drafts (I can do this because I know the bulk of the moisture is moving up, through and out the quilt box and the big vent holes above it.)

And if it gets so cold that I can't sleep worrying about them, then out come the heavy wool blankets, which are a PITA to manage. My bees are quite willing to oblige me by being wrapped in wool, because they know I can operate the dehydrator that makes those yummy Lauri's Recipe Sugar Blocks. Their little feet are too small to make the control keys on dehydrator work.

Enj.
 

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Last winter I had all my hives die out, even though they still had plenty of stores--
Just saying, if the colony had plenty of stores and didn't make it then there was something a muck and it wasn't temperature. How many people in Mi wrap their hives is tar paper?
I am in a cooler regon and I don't wrap my hives anymore. I am not saying if you live in northern VT or Canada you shouldn't.
 
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