Preparing for Winter: Part One

Preparing Hives for Winter

Well it’s that time of year. The leaves are changing, the nights are cooler, and the bees are preparing for winter.  Here is an overview of first round of winterizing. In another month or so we will attach insulation and probably change our feeding system, but that’s a discussion for another, colder, day!

We started this process about two weeks ago (I’m running a little behind in the blog-o-sphere).

  • About two months ago we treated the hives with food grade mineral oil as a mite treatment. We’ve been using the powdered sugar method all summer, but wanted to do one last “big” push. The husband has been reading about a method to use a diffuser that basically sprays a fine mist of oil over the bees. It doesn’t hurt them and the mites fall off and die.  After our first attempt, the bottom boards were COVERED with mites. I was worried about the health of the bees, but we’ve treated twice and they seem to be just fine. Some people don’t like this method because mineral oil is a petroleum-based product, but I figure if we’re only doing it once or twice a year it’s still better than those chemical treatments on the market.
  • Most recently we headed out to evaluate each hive. We lifted the corner slightly to determine weight (heavier means more honey) and, since we were out on a sunny, but cool day, we opened the hives only to do a quick inspection of honey stores and general health. Hive populations start to slow down this time of year because the workers kick out the drones (who then freeze and die). I know that sounds harsh, but consider that drones only hang out, eat all summer, and carry mites AND they only really have their sperm to offer the world, so hit the road, boys! As we evaluated each hive, we made notes of which seemed weak, too small, or lacking in honey. We’ll probably feed all the hives all winter, but we want to be especially vigilant with the weaker ones.
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  •  Speaking of weaker ones, we had two nuc hives that we combined to make one larger one. We did this with the newspaper method. This method is pretty simple: combine a small/weak hive with (ideally) a larger/stronger one by killing (or relocating) the queen in the small hive, then stacking the weaker hive on top of the stronger one with only 1-2 sheets of newspaper between the two. Over the course of the next few days the moisture will soften and tear the newspaper and the bees will work their way through and merge in an harmonious fashion.  We’ve never had any problems with this method, so we did this with two of our weaker nucs.

Another benefit of merging small hives with large hives is the more bees, the larger the cluster that forms in the winter and more bee bodies means more heat. We were also able to pool honey resources this way.

  • During this time we moved one of the hives that’s in a shaded part of the property into full sun. This time of year makes for warm days and cold nights, but we were worried that a hive in the shade all day wouldn’t warm up and dry out during the day.
  • Additionally we made sure everyone had food. This time of year we feed a 2:1 ratio (sugar to water), so the consistency is thick and syrup-like (like honey). This time of year flowers are few and far between and EVERYONE (bees, wasps, yellow jackets, etc) is in the market for food. Thus it is primetime for robbing. When we worked the hives we found all sorts of evidence of these food battles: beheaded wasps, bees fighting bees from other hives… Food supplies away from the hives can help keep other pollinators away from your bees and feeders INSIDE the hives will help keep your bees in their own place.

This is my husband and 6-year-old headed out to feed the bees. The little one in the red jacket is my 2-year-old who thinks he’s going too, but we don’t have a tiny bee suit for him… yet!

  • Finally, we have one hive that we got when a friend’s neighbor cut down a tree. We’re going to attempt to overwinter this hive in the log, so we covered the top entrance and filled the two side entrances with straw. The bees can still fit in and out, but it keeps the entry point smaller which (1) reduces robbing and (2) helps insulate the vulnerable hive.
This is Shawn inspecting his hive. He is the one who called to tell us he had found the swarm!

This is Shawn inspecting his hive. He is the one who called to tell us he had found the swarm!

We have a few things on the to-do list before we can consider the hives officially winterized. As I mentioned earlier, we will insulate the hives and continue feeding. This year we are heading into winter with 8 hives, so we’re thinking about doing some experimenting. We are thinking of moving all of the hives close together and next to the chicken coop (sheltered from the wind) and I would like to try and overwinter one INSIDE the coop, taking advantage of the heat the chickens give off.

So that’s the state of the apiary this week, things are winding down. In the meantime, enjoy the most recent bee-related artwork from my little one:

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4 thoughts on “Preparing for Winter: Part One

  1. He likes to do anything big brother is doing! As soon as we can get him a bee suit and teach him to collect eggs without breaking every other one, we’ll be all set! 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Wow, you have been busy! The mineral oil thing is interesting but I wonder at all the drops if you have been sugaring them ‘all summer’. Perhaps so much sugaring is not such a good idea?

  3. We probably sugared 3 times this summer and then the plan was one or two oil treatments in the fall. I’m not sure the sugar is hugely effective. I think it might help keep populations manageable, but when we did the first oil treatment TONS of mites fell off. This was the first year we’ve done any intentional mite treatment, so our experimenting might have been a bit much 🙂

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