Are your honey bees ready for winter?
Believe it or not, today is the first day of fall. Your bees are decreasing in number. Pollen and nectar are becoming scarce. The bees are clustering at night. It is a good time to review your winter preparations.
- Mite treatments should be complete. Ideally, any mite treatments should be completed early enough that a full colony of new worker bees has been produced after the treatments but before winter.
Bees born after mite treatments are completed are less likely to be infected with one or more of the viruses mites carry.
Mite treatments administered too late in the season kill the mites but do nothing to reduce the load of viruses in the hive. This is because, unlike summer workers, winter workers live many months. If the winter bees are born before the mites are gone, they can easily carry viruses into the winter, spreading disease throughout the colony.
- The hives need to be heavy with honey. If the colonies do not have enough stores, supplemental sugar syrup needs to be fed immediately. Once the temperature drops too far, the bees cannot break cluster to get the syrup and they are unable to dehydrate the syrup to the proper level for storage. Eventually, the syrup may freeze.
- If pollen stores appear very small or non-existent, place pollen patties on the top bars.
- If you are not using screened bottoms, hives should tip forward slightly to allow rainwater and snow melt to drain out of the hive.
- Reduce entrances for overwintering. Small entrances are important for keeping out wildlife such as mice.
- Provide adequate ventilation. A cluster of bees in a closed environment will produce water vapor that cannot escape. If the vapor condenses and drops back down on the bees, they may die. In most cases bees can survive cold and dry conditions, but they cannot survive cold and wet conditions.
- If you live in an extremely harsh environment and want to eliminate cold drafts, you must still handle the moisture accumulation. Consider the use of moisture boards or Warré-type “quilts” to absorb water vapor.
- Remember that excess moisture in the hive also promotes the growth of molds, fungi, and disease organisms. Even if you live in an area where hives are wrapped with insulation, you must still provide adequate ventilation.
- Ventilation holes should be covered with screening to keep out other creatures.
- Make a final fall inspection. Do you have a queen? Do you enough bees to keep the brood nest warm? Is the hive free of obvious disease?
Queenless or low-population hives need to be combined with other hives if they are to make it through the winter.
A queenright hive with less than optimum population may be stacked on top of a strong hive with a double-screen board.
- Diseased hives should be destroyed. Do not combine a diseased hive with a healthy one.
All done? Good job. Time to relax with a pot of hot tea and honey.