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