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Dead colony over winter, Chicago Illinois USA


So sorry! I am a little South and East of you…Indianapolis…but I am well aware of the tough winter we are having. I don’t think it is so much that cold temps that are the problem but the warmish/sunny days followed by a dramatic drop in overnight temps that is hard on bees. I would encourage you to take a look at Michael Palmer’s winter set-up. His winters are even more harsh than yours and he has great success. Make sure to get queens from local, survivor stock rather than queens from hundreds of miles away if at all possible.


Like all things beekeeping, no one answer seems to fit!

Last winter most beekeepers in our area (eastern Ontario, Canada) lost 30% of their hives through the winter. One of the successful outliers in our area had nearly 100 hives and only lost a few. In his case most of his hives had open screened bottoms! Apparently he forgot to close them up in the fall.

Even after hearing about it, I still couldn’t help myself from throwing 3/4" of foam underneath my screened bottoms, along with the sides and 2" foam on top.

This is my first winter with bees, so here’s hoping they survive. One thing for sure is the winter feels like it is really dragging on when worrying about them!


The ventilation and moisture control part of wintering beehives seems so paradoxical to me. Mike Palmer has Canadian type winters with some temps as low as -30 or -40 Fahrenheit…and yet besides putting a mouse guard on, he just leaves his bottom entrances wide open! He says that he needs to maintain that kind of ventilation to keep the bees dry. He also uses a single upper entrance. He does, however, wrap his hives and put foam insulation above the inner cover.


We (in Seattle) have 2” foam under screened bottom boards with 1.5” foam insulated cover and leave both a top and bottom entrance open. I agree with Issac about local survivor queens and stock to ensure chances of success. We usually overwinter with one deep and one medium (less space to heat) but sometimes leave a second medium of honey if the colony is large.

The only thing we know for sure after 12 years of beekeeping is that with so many variables, we can only do our best to send them into winter strong and well nourished. We don’t feed sugar or pollen substitutes to our bees and leave them with plenty of honey.

Our bees have been out this week,as we have flowering arugula, borage, and rosemary in our garden. Taking a peek inside the hive, they seem as ready for spring as we are. We are getting our first sunshine in over a month :honeybee::purple_heart::sun_with_face:

Good luck winter bee beeks :ok_hand:t4:


No paradox there.
Bees make water vapour as part of their chemical respiration. That water will condense on a cold surface once dew point is exceeded. Beekeepers worry that damp kills bees which is mighty strange considering how humid the bees like to keep the nest. The single thing you need to avoid in winter is condensing water dripping onto the bees from the crown board. You do this by making sure it is better insulated than the sides. Water condenses on the sides where the bees can use it or it can run out of the hive. Wintering hives in Finland often have icicles forming from their entrances. This is why insulation works where you have cold winters


We had a lot of that this winter here in Pennsylvania too.

Yes, I agree - I thought I was wising up last year after jumping on the southern state package bandwagon the first year with the rest of my bee class, I bought “local” nucs but learned later that they are carted down south in Jan/Feb to build up, and brought back here as splits. I dunno, just doesn’t sound great to me. This year I found two actual local beeks who sell nucs in May from actual local overwintered stock & queens. They couldn’t promise me availability - which sounds promising!


Hiya Eva, I must have missed you losing your colonys. After losing your bees the previous year I was hoping last year they would make it through. Good on you for getting back on the horse again, it shows great strength of character, well done. I’d send you some of my bees if I could! I’m crossing my fingers for you this year. :four_leaf_clover:
With cold winters and those evil mites are there any wild colonys around to swarm?


Hey skegs - thanks for your nice message, it does cheer me up :heart_eyes: :cherry_blossom::honeybee: and thanks for the luck, I will need it. You didn’t miss it, I just never mentioned it…seemed too sadly redundant. About swarms, I do aim to try catching one this season & based on beeks’ reports, they are out there. I’m in the suburbs but the Wissahickon creek and some lovely woods are in walking distance, maybe a good place to put a trap or two out!


Sorry you lost your bees Eva: I’m sure I’m down around 25 by now. I started in the 30’s. Most of the losses are late swarm captures or experimental splits. A couple are/were big thriving hives. All the 3 deepers are still chugging along.

I brought this hive in for my 4-H kids to do an autopsy. They determined starvation as the most likely cause. They even found the queen: I was so proud of them :slight_smile:


Thanks Red Hot…Wow, you could turn that pic into a very challenging jigsaw puzzle! That’s cool you have a 4H club too :four_leaf_clover:

About your 3deepers, did they build up to that in one season?? Both my nucs last year leveled out at one deep and one medium each. The first one to die out/abscond was the fastest to build. I upped my treatment game but I think their small size was also a problem.


The 3 deep hives can be achieved in one season but it’s based on the honey flow. These last couple of years I’ve been able to do it in a single season because I’ve had drawn comb to start them on.


Good to know! I’ve got plenty of drawn comb now, plus a full medium super of capped honey from the last deadout. Should be able to give my nucs a good start at least


Hi Eva,
We’ve had better winter survival rates with Russian/Carniolans and one deep plus one honey super. (These were from swarms I captured so only thing I know is that they were not Italians.) We like to host at least one colony of each, so we can compare and contrast a bit.

Thought you might be interested in this study and article:


That is interesting. The small being a single Lan and the large a 3 box lang. When the big V arrives in WA maybe I will rethink the 2 brood box hive.
Also of interest was they found the small hives swarmed more often.


Very interesting articles, thanks Tracey. Very encouraging, and not at all shocking.

My last two colonies were supposedly Russian/Carniolan mutts, from ‘survivor stock’ in Massachusetts. I liked the beek I bought them from, an Amish man in a neighboring county, but I was turned off by the realization that he was pretty much a bee dealer, like my teacher who sells southern packages - and that these cold climate colonies are trucked south at this time of year to get a quick population boost so they can be more reliably turned into a profitable number of nucs, and trucked back here. Yet another agribusiness practice I’d rather not participate in.


I am with you on that. Good luck finding good local stock.

From Seeley/Loftus/Smith:
“It is likely that the spike in the mean Varroa infestation rate in the small-hive colonies in mid-September was due to importation of mites by small-hive colonies that had robbed honey from the collapsing large-hive colony. If so, then this spike in the Varroa infestation rate in the small-hive colonies, which were living only 60 m from the large-hive colonies, is an artifact of the experimental setup.”

“This spike in Varroa infestation rate may explain why there was considerable colony mortality (4 out of 12 colonies) in the small-hive group. One small-hive colony died because its queen ran out of sperm, so eventually only drones were produced in this colony. Interestingly, the other 3 small-hive colonies that died were the 3 colonies that experienced strong spikes in their Varroa infestation rates during September. Thus the possible importation of Varroa (and associated viruses) from the collapsing large-hive colony in September may have led to the deaths of these three small-hive colonies over the winter. Because robber bees probably transfer diseases mainly between hives in close proximity [25], it is regrettable that we did not space the two apiaries for the two treatment groups farther apart. A recent study [29] of the effects of colony crowding has shown that crowding renders colonies more likely to acquire high infestations of Varroa in late summer, when robbing behavior is most common.”

Interesting that this is opposite of what many treatment-free beeks are accused of, which is that their untreated robbers infest treated hives. I hope that Seely does follow-up research to explore his further questions.