I'm looking for advice on how to keep honey bees in a cold climate. My winters are -15c to -35c. Can I keep bees at those temps? I'm guessing I would need to keep them in a large insulated shed or structure of some sort.
Yes, you can keep them with a special hive and insulated roof.
Make sure the wood is at least 5cm thick and the roof is a Warre roof with hay in it. One of my friends in Eastern Turkey keeps bees at winter temperatures of -45C and only hive that was alive in spring was the one with 5cm thick walls.
Yours will be a custom hive so go with Warre design increasing the wall thickness and inside is as big as a 30cm diameter circle (that is the size of a winter cluster). Once the winter hits or temperatures drop, squeeze them to a box leaving them a small space to heat and reduce the entrance.
Do not harvest all the honey and leave a bit more excess for them or feed back just when the spring hits with their own honey.
I've seen online that there are beekeepers in Greenland. And mead is a traditional drink in Scandinavia is it not? And it used to be colder there than it is now. So obviously it can be done. As for what the methods are.... *shrugs*.
Logically it seems that bees should make less honey in places with long, cold winters as there are flowers blooming throughout less of the year. Unless bees in warm climates are just slacking and cold climate bees feel pushed to pick up the pace. Nature is like that sometimes but I doubt it's the case in this instance.
I'd recommend feeding them with some kind of sugar syrup. Commercial beekeepers do it because they're greedy and want all the honey for themselves. In your case I'd consider it more of a supplement to get them through the winter. I'm not saying take all the honey, personally I'd leave them some for their health. You could produce it yourself with sugar beets. Beet syrup's got to be better for them than HFCS.
Also, there are different types of bees, so you might want to look into them and maybe go through the extra effort to get some less common ones more suited to your climate. And there are a lot of different hive designs out there, some must be more suited to cold climates than others. I've seen a picture (that I can't find) of a bee hut sort of thing with multiple hives in it that could be closed up in winter to keep the wind and snow off of them and provide a second layer of insulation. I'd imagine that would be close to ideal.
Finally, I'd plant lots of things nearby to provide them pollen during as much of the year as possible. If you don't have a garden, get on it. Don't be picky and demand the honey be pure clover, although clover might be a good thing too. I've always liked the dark funky herbal honeys better, personally.
Sounds very cold where you are. Overwintering them in a barn or somewhere warmer than completely exposed outside sure won't hurt. Some people insulate their hives. I sure would in your climate. Just make sure not to block the ventilation. Moisture condensing in winter is a big killer of bees. So is running out of honey. If you feel you must feed them sugar I would avoid HFCS as well as beet sugar. Most sugar beets are GMO too. I use pure cane sugar if necessary. Most likely WILL need to feed in that cold of a climate because I suspect the growing season is short. Last year I started not harvesting any honey at all until AFTER the winter. I slept better knowing they would have plenty of food. Then harvested long before anyone else even had a chance to start producing any. Bees work hard to stay warm in winter. It's their main focus that time of year. Any help you can provide will increase your odds of success. I have placed pieces of slate in the bottom of some hives as thermal mass. Not really sure if it helped or hindered but they all survived. Intend to do the same with those particular high altitude hives again this year. I strongly suggest starting with locally obtained bees because they will be more adapted to the conditions. Good luck.
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