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A checklist for wintertime hive prep

My wintertime checklist keeps evolving, and this year’s list is no exception. Based on the weird weather we’ve had all spring and summer, I expect we may have some strange weather through the winter as well. Here are some things to consider for wintertime preparation. Please note that many of the suggestions are alternatives—you may not be able to use all of the ideas.

Mites

Because I believe Varroa mites should be managed by the end of August, I don’t consider mite control as part of my winter preparations. Still, if you haven’t done anything, at least do a sugar roll test and see where you are. If you have a heavy mite load, it is my opinion that tending to them is the most important thing you can do for the coming winter.

Queens

Check each hive for a laying queen. Brood nests are smaller in the fall, but you should still see some brood in your colonies. If not, order a queen while there is still time.

Colony Size

  • If you have colonies that are extremely small, consider combining the smaller ones into one larger one.
  • If you want to keep colonies separate, consider stacking small colonies on top of larger ones with a double-screen board.

Honey Stores

  • I like to have around 80 pounds of honey in each double deep hive. We don’t have very cold winters here, but they are long. Rain can keep the bees from foraging right into April. Figure out how much honey you will need for your area, and if your hives are light, feed them.
  • Make sure the honey frames are in the right place. In a Langstroth, honey should be on both sides of the brood nest and above it. In a top-bar hive, the honey should be on one side of the cluster or the other, not both.
  • If honey stores remain questionable, consider making candyboards or candy cakes for winter.

Opportunistic Predators

  • Reduce hive entrances to keep out mice and other small creatures that might be looking for a warm place to spend the winter.
  • Remove weedy vegetation near the hives that small creatures can use as a ladder.
  • All ventilation ports should be screened, and all extra openings should be closed. Remember, the bees won’t leave their cluster to defend hive openings.
  • A mouse guard can be made from #4 hardware cloth.
  • A shrew guard can also be made from #4 hardware cloth. (Only use #4 when pollen is not being collected.)

Too Much Empty Space

Too much space in the hive increases draftiness and makes it harder for the bees to patrol for pests.

  • Consolidate frames into fewer boxes, if possible.
  • Remove extra boxes, especially those that are nearly empty.
  • Consider using follower boards to reduce empty space and increase insulation.

Moisture

If moisture is coming in from the outside:

  • Make sure your lids fit well enough to keep out the rain.
  • Tip the hive slightly forward, so the water runs out the front, especially if you are using solid bottom boards.
  • In very rainy areas, consider a rain shelter.

If moisture from condensation is collecting inside your hives:

  • Consider using a moisture board in the lid.
  • Consider using a moisture quilt with ventilation ports. (Ports can be drilled at an angle so water drains out.)
  • Consider using a ventilated inner cover and/or a ventilated gabled roof.
  • Consider using a screened bottom board without a varroa tray all winter long.

Cold Temperatures

  • Consider using an inner cover for greater insulation
  • Consider using a slatted rack to add space between the bottom of the cluster and the drafty opening.
  • Consider wrapping your hives with insulation or tar paper, but don’t forget ventilation.
  • Consider using a skirt if your hives are off the ground.

High winds

  • Using a skirt can reduce drafts.
  • Secure lids with tie-downs or heavy objects
  • Shield upper ventilation ports from side winds.
  • Consider using a windbreak, such as bales of straw.

Flooding

If flooding is a problem, don’t wait: move your hives now.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

A beekeeper’s message from sunny Florida

Just an update from what used to be known as “The Sunshine State”… Well, for those of you thinking about your next vacation, it’s been raining here for 18 days straight. We have started building an ark in the barn, large enough for the horses, all the dogs, and our thirty hives!

I bought a jumbo-sized package of rubber washers (the kind you use in faucets) and have handed them out to all our “girls” in their hives. They each now have their own floating life preservers. They are standing by, with their floatation devices tucked under their wings, prepared for the next deluge.

I have promised to take them to a warm and sunny place, just as soon as we can float out of here. Until then we’re trying not to count the record 26 inches of rain we’ve emptied from the rain gauge in the past 2 weeks. Keep smiling, keep busy, and keep buzzing.

Erika Svor

Notice Board . . .

In case you missed it: A Song of the Bees

How to recognize a nectar dearth

“How can I recognize a nectar death?” is a common newbee question and a hard one to answer. I think most experienced beekeepers know which plants are in flower in any season, which bloom follows another, and how long each lasts. They are attuned to variations in the weather from year to year, and they know if things are early or late.

Here in the coastal Pacific Northwest, we can expect the summer dearth to follow the blackberry bloom—an event that coincides with the beginning of the dry season. But if you dropped me in the middle of Texas, Alberta, or Kentucky tomorrow afternoon, I wouldn’t know the plants, the weather patterns, or the rhythm of the seasons. Read more

How much honey should I leave in my hive?

How much honey will your bees need for winter? Good question. But before I answer, here’s a question for you: How much heating fuel will my household use this winter?

Well, you say, that is complex. It depends on where you live, your local climate, and the size and geometry of your house. It depends on what type of furnace you have, how warm you like it, and how many people live there. It depends on how much insulation you have, and whether you have wind breaks, and what color it is. It depends on air leaks and ventilation and the materials it is made from. It depends on whether the seasons are early or late. And on and on.

Your bee colony has different issues, of course, but just as many. The climate and weather, the amount of ventilation, the structure of the hive, the number of bees, the kind of bees, the number of warmish days and the number of abnormally cold ones are some obvious examples. The fact is, you can’t predict exactly how much honey a colony will need, so it is better to estimate on the high side.

I checked dozens of sources this morning and found an amazing amount of agreement on general guidelines. Bees in the southern U.S. may thrive on as little as 40 pounds, bees in the middle states need about 60, and northern bees may require 80 or 90. Those are average numbers for average years and average hives. What’s average? Another good question.

In all but the warmest areas, I recommend that a beekeeper leave 80 to 90 pounds. In nearly all cases, this will assure a good supply of natural food for your bees, and it will save you messing around with syrups and sugars and supplements. In short, it is good for them and good for you.

The Mann Lake catalog used to have estimates for the weight of full boxes. According to them, a full ten-frame deep weighs 80-90 pounds, and a full ten-frame medium weighs 65-75 pounds. Discounting the weight of the structure and dividing by 10, a full deep frame holds about 8 pounds of honey and full medium holds about 6 pounds. (If you evenly space nine frames in a ten-frame box, a full frame will weigh a bit more.)

According to Caron and Conner (2013), the ideal fall colony will have brood in the center of the lowest box. This will be flanked with frames of honey and pollen, and the two outermost frames will be filled with just honey. The second deep will be filled to the brim with honey—all ten frames.

Applying the math to their ideal colony, you will have 12 deep frames completely full of honey which gives you (8 x 12) or 96 pounds, plus any additional that is stored on the pollen frames.

This setup should get you through any winter, but in the more temperate states, you could easily replace the second deep with a medium, which would give you (6 x 12) or 72 pounds of honey plus any additional on the pollen frames.

A common error that new beekeepers make is harvesting the honey supers without checking the brood boxes for honey. You cannot assume the deeps are full just because the honey supers are full. Often the bees use one or both brood boxes for brood and pollen during most of the season. Not until late in the year do they start moving the honey closer to the brood nest. If you take the supers without checking, you could be leaving your bees with almost nothing for the winter. So above all, remember to look before you take.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

A-full-frame-of-honey
A full frame of honey. © Nancy McClure.