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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is written for northern winters, and specifically for Pennsylvania. Please keep in mind that all beekeeping is local. This was written for the state newsletter. It may not be as far outside the box as my other stuff, but is based on practical items.

Thinking Outside the Box #5

Everybody has probably heard the expression in beekeeping “Moisture Killsâ€. On the surface it sounds reasonable enough. Bees are said to handle the cold, cluster ever tighter as needed, even in the coldest of times, yet over and over I hear “Moisture killsâ€.

So why is this? Has it always been this way? Do bees in feral colonies, or even “unmanaged†hives have this problem?

Many discussions can be heard today about “upper entrancesâ€, “screened bottom for ventilationâ€, special tops with sensors, motors, and gadgets to rid the hives of moisture, this type of hive or that type of hive, all in efforts to deal with moisture. Perhaps we are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

In looking at feral colonies, we know from published studies from Cornell, that bees prefer a very specific size colony. Bees also prefer lower entrances, and will actually avoid swarm traps that have light or openings from above. We also know bees work their way up throughout the first part of the winter so they are located at the top of the colony when they start rearing brood in coldest part of the winter. Trapped heat or a “dead zone†where heat is collected is important for bees raising brood.

With feral colonies some things ring true. They have no beekeeper feeding them sugar syrup. They feed on honey. What is the moisture content of this honey? Probably close to 17 or 18%. It is also true that no beekeeper is breaking that seal of propolis by changing out jars every week in attempting to shower them with way too much attention and misguided love.

Compare that to the hive being fed sugar syrup well into winter by beekeepers, and many times not even needed. A syrup with a two to one ratio, would yield a moisture content somewhere around 33%. And if the beekeeper was feeding 1 to 1 syrup, this would raise the moisture content to close to 50%. I’m sure everyone here in Pennsylvania has experienced the difference between a dry cold compared to a heavy moisture cold that permeates seemingly to your bones in very short time.

Why are we feeding bees sugar syrup sometimes all winter long? They can not possibly do much with curing the syrup and capping it, when we know wax production and manipulation stops way earlier than when some are still placing syrup on the hive in November, December or even later.

Moisture for the most part, seems to be a beekeeper induced problem. Partly due to the hive construction which is vastly different from the high insulating R-value given from 6 inches of oak wood in that bee tree. The absorption factor compared to feral colonies is far less with our 1 inch standard wood we use today in constructing hives.

I think the main moisture contributor is the idea that beekeeper need to continuously feed syrup all winter, especially when items like bee candy and fondant are available. Bee candy was used years ago, and except for a few here and there, it just seems most would rather fill hive top feeders, frame feeders, a few inverted canning jars or a quail feeder. However, have we created this moisture problem in large degrees by not properly preparing the bees for winter? And by thinking we are doing the bees a favor by having syrup available all winter long.

Bees are stressed by beekeepers filling feeders throughout the winter, and adding massive amounts of moisture. And the propolis seal is broken every time the hive is opened. Heat is lost that is vital to the colony.

If you have a light hive (I did NOT say “weak hive“, which should have been combined as part of your winter preparations), then consider ending any syrup feeding by the end of September. Then place enough fondant or bee candy on the inner cover hole, (This is where your bees will be if they are starving anyways) then place an empty super on top and add the top…..and let them be!

Don’t be the beekeeper who every spring holds up a comb, filled with open sugar syrup from feeding the fall before, taken from a dead hive!

BTW… you read this, you should of already started getting your hives ready for winter. Don’t count on that unreliable Pennsylvania fall flow.

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first off water accumlation (in residential construction a similar circumstance would be called ice daming) may be beekeeper or bee induced. no matter if the hive is feral or man made this does not eliminate the bees respiration nor the general rules as to what happens to hot moist air.

feral hives may or may not be exposed to the same risk???? if they were or were not... how might anyone actually know??? just because no one is looking doesn't mean 'something' does or does not happen? <this seems to be a very large ASSUMPTION to me.

if you think moisture is (or could be) a problem then it would be in your best interest to first think about feeding with a candy board (about the same moisture content as honey) or dry sugar (so little water that the bees will need to collect water to utilize this form of sugar). a great many beekeeper I have known would tell you straight out that a 'candy board' was a superior form of feeding bees.

I have also heard (untested by me at this time but an adjustment in feeding regime that I will test this winter) from a commercial beekeeper that feeding bees via feed placed into comb is superior to feeding in either hive top feeder or frame feeders (you would suspect a hive's ability to maintain the temperature of the feed would be somewhat to highly effected)
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