The Arctic Blast and Overwintering Honey bees

A brutal winter for honeybees and I am sure that other beekeepers are wondering what spring holds and we will all shortly take a tally of the carnage.  Part of beekeeping as any farmer of livestock is managing the population.  The recent weather will take its toll on the weaker populations of bees that may not been strong enough to survive the plunge in temperature.

The cold has been a northern beekeepers friend by keeping the Africanized genetics out of the local populations.  The cold also keep some predators in check such as the yellow jacket wasp.  Yellow jackets seem to quickly find weak hives robbing them out and even prey on the bees themselves for a protein source.  Small hive beetles have been working their way north and personally I am hoping the cold will perhaps put a good dent into that population.

I am convinced that survival when overwinter honey bees is essentially dependent on 2 things.  What I call critical mass or the size of the population which is needed to sustain warmth in a cluster.  The second is the amount of carbohydrates in a hive to support that mass or population for the duration of winter.

Feeding is essential and especially to the new beekeeper where bees have to use precious energy to draw out comb. In upstate New York the hot dry summers months are not friendly to bees and provide little or no sources of nectar.  As beekeepers we rob the bees of this precious energy source and we must replace it to get our bees through winter.  I am thinking perhaps I may need to run 3 deeps per hive.  Two deeps may not enough storage space for carbohydrates if I want to continue with this endeavor and if these winters are the new normal…

2 comments to The Arctic Blast and Overwintering Honey bees

  • Samuel Thompson

    I always wanted to give beekeeping a try in the far north like the North Slope, Alaska. I was a child then and I came to think about doing it as an extreme to the African hybridization of the western honey bee. I am well aware of the modern methods of beekeeping. What do you suggest? Langstroth or Top Bar? Will a smaller hive be easier to keep warm that a larger langstroth hive? Will the propolus sealant in the Langstroth hive keep the cold out better than a top bar hive? How far north can the hive go? Can it go all the way to Point Barrow? Will the hive swarm and adapt wild to the area? Well that is most of the questions I have. Thanks for the article? Good Bye 🙂

    • Hi Samuel,
      It all depends on available flora and the bees ability to gather enough carbohydrates for winter storage. With climate change the North Slope may become at some point more amiable to support honeybees. Honey Bees are cavity dwellers and prefer hollow trees in nature as such I am not a big fan of top-bar hives. The Langstroth hive seems to emulate the cavity and the frames are more suited for harvesting honey. The hive itself is shelter from the elements and winter it is a struggle for beekeepers to provide enough ventilation to mitigate moisture and yet provide some protection from the cold. There are beekeepers in Alaska and sourcing local stock would increase chances for survival. Hope this helps. Good luck! Ward

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