Discovering a Leaky Winter Hive

December 2018 Introduction: I’d like to delete this post or at least rewrite it and simplify it, but I’m leaving it alone because the comments are informative. Many of the comments during the first few years of this blog are informative. Things slowed down considerably after I was forced to move my hives because of unpleasant neighbours, but before that I was getting about 3,000 readers a day and discussions through comments were pretty consistent.

A leaky hive isn’t a huge concern. Most of what I thought of as leaks was probably condensation building up inside the hive because I had everything sealed with duct tape. It’s not a huge problem to find a few cracks between the inner cover and the top deep. The cracks at the top of the hive provide a little extra ventilation.

Today I don’t bother with insulated inner covers. I add a rim over the top deep to make room for sugar bricks and I put a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover. If I find moisture inside the hives, I create some extra ventilation by adding moisture quilts or some sort of ventilation box on top.

This post was written during my first winter when I thought pollen feeding was necessary, but it isn’t necessary. Pollen can help boost up a weak colony, but I’m not sure a healthy colony needs pollen early in the winter, keeping in mind that pollen stimulates the queen the lay more, which means more bees that need more sugar and honey, which means once I start feeding pollen, I have to be ready to keep feeding sugar and then sugar syrup so all the newly emerging bees don’t starve. And that’s all fine for saving a weak colony, but healthy colonies that are artificially stimulated to expand through pollen feeding can expand so rapidly that swarming can occur as early as May (which I have experienced). Which is fine if I’m ready to deal with swarms or create splits before the over-populated colonies swarm. But I have to monitor those colonies closely and make sure the queen doesn’t run out of room to lay. I also need equipment standing by so I can create those splits quickly or catch a swarm if necessary. When the bees shift into swarming-mode, they don’t mess around. It becomes their #1 priority. They act fast. Anyway, here’s the original post from 2011:

It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:

Hive #1 after adding final pollen patty (March 29, 2011).

Hive #1 was crowded with bees on top (both of them were). It seemed to have plenty of sugar left, though not much pollen. Hive #2 wasn’t a pretty sight when I opened it up. I’ll talk about that after the video.

As you can see, Hive #1 wasn’t too bad. But Hive #2 was unpleasant. A pollen patty that was added about three weeks ago was untouched and gooey. The black winter wrap curled up and came loose on a corner of the hive a couple weeks ago. Melting snow and rain got into the hive. The wood on that corner was a bit mouldy too. Hopefully the moisture that got into the hive didn’t do much damage. Most of the bees would have been clustered in the centre of the hive anyway, not off to the corner. I’m hoping it’s safe to keep the gooey pollen patty in there. I’ve got all the cracks sealed with duct tape now, so maybe it’ll gradually dry up and the bees will consider eating it again. Come spring, if all goes well, the colony in Hive #2 will be able to deal with the mess in that corner of the hive and move on. I hope so.

Both colonies could be dead by this time next month for all I know. It looks to me like a touch and go kind of situation. At least the hives now have as much pollen patties and candy cakes as I can give them. I’m not going to feed them again until the snow is gone and the bees are able to fly around everyday.

Hive #1 after fixing a leak (March 29, 2011).

I won’t be able to confirm anything until after the first inspection probably some time in May, but I suspect both colonies weren’t able to build up enough honey stores last summer to get them through the winter. They were started from nucs on July 18th and began to shut down for the winter some time in September. That’s barely two months. It’s no wonder they’ve been clustered on the top bars since the middle of January. (I sure hope this year’s nucs arrive sooner.) And what a mess it is trying to add pollen patties and candy cakes when just about every bee in the colony is getting in the way.

I have no desire to deal with that kind of situation again. So the plan for next year is:

1) Add a big mother candy board to the hives sometime in January instead of candy cakes. I’ll throw in some pollen supplement while I’m at it and that should easily get any honey-starved colonies through the entire winter. I won’t have to prop off the top once.

2) Add a spacer (a.k.a. a shim or a feeder rim) between the top bars and the inner cover to give plenty of room for any pollen patties just in case they’re required.

3) Wrap the hives as usual but duct tape over the crack between the top brood box and the inner cover so there’s no chance of any rain or melting snow leaking in.

4) Add a piece of hard insulation as usual.

I am completely, 100% sick and tired of winter. Absolutely no doubt about it.

12 thoughts on “Discovering a Leaky Winter Hive

  1. A updated this post with a new title today. “Discovering a Leaky Winter Hive” is more to the point than “Final Winter Feeding.”

    I also corrected some typos in the video and tweaked a few sentences in the post.

  2. A small amount of water leaking in is unavoidable, water will also build up inside the hive from condensation freezing then thawing, the important thing is to keep it away from the cluster, I wouldn’t worry about the small leaks, July is a bit late to start building up a hive, but not severely late. You could try adding that insulating blocks to the sides of the hive ether under of over the tar paper, if your worried about winter survival. Gl, So far I have 7 out of 10 hives alive, one small one starved a couple weeks ago, it almost made it through the winter, another was probably not queen right to start with.

    • …the important thing is to keep it away from the cluster

      That’s the good thing. The moisture was only on that corner of the hive, away from the cluster, and I didn’t see any sign on condensation build up anywhere. I don’t think so many bees would be able to cling to the inner cover if it was wet from condensation. The hard foam insulation and the upper entrance seem to do the trick.

      …July is a bit late to start building up a hive, but not severely late.

      I suspect both of our colonies would be more robust now if they’d had more time to get strong in the summer. July 18th seems very late to me, not that it could have been help last year. We had a wet spring and the bees couldn’t get out to forage during the dandelion blossoms, so they were slow to start up.

      We plan to create our own nucs after this year. Being entirely dependent on a single source for our bees in Newfoundland kind of blows.

  3. Good job on waterproofing your hives! Looks like its still wintry there. We had 84 degrees one Monday, snow and 33 degrees the next Monday. I am so ready for spring!

    • Looks like its still wintry there.

      You better believe it.

      We had 84 degrees one Monday, snow and 33 degrees the next Monday.

      84°F is nearly 29°C. Holy moly. We’re lucky if it EVER gets that warm in Newfoundland. I didn’t realize North Carolina was so warm. But I guess if you’re not in Russia, Newfoundland or Alaska… well, nuff said.

  4. Phil,

    It is sunny and 5°C here today with little wind so I decided to inspect the candy board. There is still about 5 – 7 lb of sugar left but the 1.5 lb of pollen substitute is all gone.

    I should have brought some more out but I wasn’t expecting to to be all gone so I’ll have to wait for a warm day in April. After they all settled down again the bees were out making cleansing flights. I think it has warmed up a bit more since I inspected the hive earlier.

    Looks like a good sign of young bees (you can see some bees that have little hair and other are really fuzzy on their abdomen. And to eat that much pollen substitute the queen must be starting to lay.

    Must get ready for the next snow storm on Saturday. When will spring come this year.

    • It is sunny and 5°C here today…

      It went up to 7°C in St. John’s. Bees pooping all over the place. It’s good to see.

      I should have brought some more [pollen substitute] out but I wasn’t expecting to to be all gone so I’ll have to wait for a warm day in April.

      I guess that’s about right, though. Mine have eaten through about 1.5 pounds of pollen per hive too. If you’re saying you don’t have any pollen left to give them at all, email me your address and you can some of mine. I have tons.

      After they all settled down again the bees were out making cleansing flights.

      That’s how mine reacted yesterday too. I think our bees are doing about the same. Which maybe isn’t so bad.

      Are your bees crowded on the top bars like mine?

      Looks like a good sign of young bees (you can see some bees that have little hair and other are really fuzzy on their abdomen. And to eat that much pollen substitute the queen must be starting to lay.

      Yes all around. Exactly my thoughts and exactly what I’m seeing in my hives too.

      Must get ready for the next snow storm on Saturday.

      Get out of town! Don’t tell me that. Arugh. Anyway… I have to keep this a family-friend website. So no comment.

  5. Update from yesterday. After I opened the hive and inspected the candy board an hour later the bees had settled down and were out making cleansing flight. I was also pooped on several times too. It was nice to finally see the bees out in numbers making cleaning flights and stretching their wings.

    The numbers look good with a good sign of young bees. All we need now is warm weather and the girls are off to the races.

    woot woot

    • All we need now is warm weather and the girls are off to the races.

      The daily high temperatures are above freezing now (above 0°C / 32°F), but the daily lows won’t be above freezing until mid-April.

      If the forecast is accurate, the bees will have a chance for more cleansing flights in the next two weeks. My hives should have enough sugar and pollen for those two weeks, so I probably won’t touch them.

      But I plan to install the top hive feeders or inverted jar feeders as soon as the daily lows are above freezing, and then we’re off to the races.

      I’m wondering what kind of mess I’ll be faced with then. If the bees are clustered on the top bars then like they are now, it’s going to be tricky because I’ll need to remove the insulated inner hive covers, bang off all the bees holding on, and install regular inner covers flipped to the spring-summer position.

      Does it sound like I know what I’m doing yet?

  6. We’re removing the candy cakes and pollen patties and installing slightly modified top hive feeders this weekend. I will officially declare that day to be the end of winter.

    I wasn’t sure it was safe to feed the bees syrup in this cold weather, so I asked a local beekeeper who told to me he’s been feeding his bees syrup and candy for the past three weeks. His syrup was a 2-sugar:1-water mix because his bees were low on winter stores.

    He suggested if ours are low on winter stores (I’ll have to lift the hives and guess from the weight of them), then we should feed them a heavy syrup (2-sugar:1-water). However, to stimulate them and get the queen laying well, a very light syrup (1-sugar:2-water) is the way to go.

    I’ll lift the hives later on and decided what to do.

  7. I just picked up 40kg of sugar for $50. $10 more than last year’s prices.

    It’s 5°C out back. Hive #1 is going wild again. Hive #2 — nothing. I wonder what’s going on with Hive #2.

    We’re installing top hive feeders tomorrow.

  8. We modified our top hive feeders and mixed up some syrup. But then it got cold again, so we’re holding off until tomorrow.

    We did take a peek under the room of Hive #2, the inactive hive. They’re still eating their candy cakes and have plenty left. They’re not touching any more of the pollen patties.

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