Winter: An Update

We have not had a lot of success in keeping bees alive these past winters. We’ve had struggles with nosema, starvation, and weather beyond our control.  Every year we vow to do something different, and we do, but then something else seems to kill them.

This year we were fairly aggressive in keeping the mite population in check as one of our theories was the bees were weaker than they looked going into the winter months.  We also only took 2-3 frames of honey total (from our then 6 hives), so there would be plenty of honey for the winter months.  Finally, we revamped our wind-block system.

In years past, we’ve seen record colds. One year there were too many cold days in a row for the bees to get out for cleansing flights. One year the well-below zero temps didn’t come until mid-February and the weak cluster just couldn’t sustain. So this year, we upgraded our plan of attack:

winterized hives

  • We moved all of the hives together onto a platform.
  • We surrounded the hives with insulation, leaving holes for entering/ventilation.
  • The platform is sitting on bricks, and through the bricks we ran a piece of heating cable. This way, if the temperature of the brick falls below 34 degrees, the cable will kick on and heat up. Brick is a good conductor of heat, so we’re hoping it will produce enough radiant heat to just take the edge off.

Of course, the year we OVER prepare for frigid temperatures, is the year we have an unseasonably warm winter! So in the middle of December, when the temp is usually in the 30’s, it was in the 50’s and the bees were flying like crazy. This is great for hive hygiene, but more flying means less clustering which means the bees are burning more energy. Naturally, then, they’ll eat more honey.  We need those honey stores to last until at least April, May ideally, so we made some giant fondant cakes and put them out near the hives.

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In the fall we started with 4 hives and a nuc. We lost the nuc pretty early on and one of the weaker hives, so we currently have three really strong hives. You can see the entrances to each hive below:

winterized hives enterances

Today it’s a balmy 29 degrees and what little snow we have has completely frozen into a hard, slippery ice carpet, if you will. This means that when I went out to feed the chickens and check on the hives, I was able to see evidence of hive cleaning. All those little black dots on the ground are dead bees.

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While you might think this is a bad thing, it’s actually a good sign as it tells us the hives are alive and active. When bees die inside the hive (which happens much more in the winter than summer because they are all cooped up), worker bees toss the bodies out the front door.  Sounds disrepectful, I know, but it used to make our chickens happen when they roamed by the bee hives!

So I will cautiously end this post with a “so far, so good.” As I’ve learned you can never be too careful when wintering bees. Last year we thought it was smooth sailing when we had a living hive in February and then it died out near the end of the month after a cold snap!

Happy Beekeeping!

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