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Wintering bees in cold climates

I need help from beekeepers in cold, snowy climates…

I just watched this awesome video about harvesting honey with Cedar. I was confused about what he said about adding a second brood box. When I set up the hive, I thought the standard practice for cold climates was adding a second brood box to allow the bees to store enough honey for winter (I live in Michigan). I did that. I added a Flow super four weeks ago and there are a lot of bees up there…but not much honey.

My neighbor has 6 flow hives. He is a new beekeepr with one year’s experience. He said he doesn’t harvest until early October!?! But that is autumn here and things are buttoning up for winter…not a lot of food for bees to replenish what I take. And, last year ALL of his bees died over the winter–I want to avoid that. There were a lot of factors…no insulation, no wind block, warm weather Nucs instead of local…

My hive is so full of bees they are bearding quite a bit. What I saw on last inspection is in the bottom brood box there are frames with very sparse capped brood (but it could have been a day or two after a hatch) and only small pockets of honey. The top brood box has quite a bit of capped brood, some sparse capped honey, and 1.5 frames full of capped honey. On top of that is the Flow Super with not a lot of evidence of honey in the windows.

My fear is that if my bees fill the Flow Super and I harvest in Sept or Oct there won’t be enough down below in the two brood boxes for the winter. However, If I save a few frames of honey in the Flow Super, I can’t leave it for the bees to use in winter (can I?) as the Flow Super needs to be removed, cleaned, and stored for the winter.

Any help is appreciated.

Don’t leave the super on. Drain it, clean it, store it, like you said.
Do feed the bees. You can feed them back honey (capped or uncapped) from their own supers, or just feed them sugar syrup.

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This makes for sad reading. This guy put a lot of money into his hives but didn’t put the time into learning the basics. Before anybody gets bees they should read the books, if they are genuinely interested, they will devour them, then find local associations or fellow beekeepers. Learn from them, find out what is done in the locality, don’t repeat the mistakes of earlier generations, build on existing knowledge.

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I checked with the kind folks at Flow Hive and you can leave the Flow Super on over winter. I live in Reno at 4,600 feet and cold winters down to zero. I am not leaving mine on though as it could cause a drafty situation for the bees. I have two brood boxes and one regular super full of honey below my Flow Hive Super. When I remove the queen excluder the bees (including the queen) will have plenty of access to the honey.

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Of course you “can.” The plastic will withstand it just fine. But for reasons that have been shared many times, it is not advisable.

Leaving the flow super on over a cold winter will cause a crystallized mess mixed in with brood that would be avoided if you just harvested, cleaned, and put the flow frames away for the winter.

Storing them in a pest-proof container or wrapping in the freezing cold is fine, even good to kill off pest eggs and larvae.

Maybe @Freebee2 can clarify the advice that you received from Flow.

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Hi Charles,

Technically this is true! However, I’m a bit concerned about this comment being taken out of context, in case it is confusing or misleading for newbees.

For others in this situation, please refer our fuller advice on overwintering here, along with some other useful and semi-related topics:
Wintering your Flow Hive
Using Flow in cold weather
Leaving honey for the bees
How many supers?

We’d love to hear how you go through winter - it certainly sounds like a chilly one in your neck of the woods :slight_smile:

Great signs!
Remove harvestable honey above queen excluder.
I stimulate the rearing of “winter bees…long lived bees that survive til spring” at this time. They are on their second feeding of pollen substitution patties. Photos are from the last week.

There is still a strong honey flow coming from second cut alfalfa and that is stored as high quality winter feed in the two brood boxes.


And as important as anything, the varroa mite fall treatments have been applied. The hives are ready to be wintered with the exception that there are always a few hives that need a bit of sugar syrup.