Winter’s Coming! (Whether You Like It or Not)
By Education Specialist
Editor’s Note: While this article is a reprint from about a year ago, the information is still very relevant.
Winter’s coming, and depending on where you live this can be hard on your bees. This is the time when you want to be sure your hives are stuffed with young bees and honey for the potentially hard months ahead. In Kentucky and most points north you will want to have two deep boxes to the point where you can barely tilt them because of the weight of their stored honey. This food is vital for their winter survival, and the positioning of it can also be critical. I try to follow a mental checklist for my colonies as I inspect this time of the year.
Do I have a queen that is young, prolific and vigorous?
This is important because the bees she is producing now will need to survive the winter months ahead and I want them to be young. She will also continue to lay eggs to a small extent throughout the winter and she has to be able to survive.
Have I got a handle on my mites?
Hopefully you have been doing mite tests throughout the year and the threshold levels are within reason. And, if using chemical treatments they have already been applied following temperature and brood cycle guidelines.
Are my double brood boxes full of honey and have I removed any surplus boxes above them?
I do not like to leave any supers above my brood nests as I feel the bees will not use them if you have adequate stores in the nest area. In my opinion this is just extra space that the bees cannot defend and probably won’t use until spring anyway. If I am not going to harvest the honey in my supers at this point I will scratch the cappings and set them out some distance from the hives and allow them to be robbed out.
After they are clean and dry they will be stored for the winter. I want all honey and pollen stored around the middle of the brood nest, where I figure the bees will cluster (this is above and to the sides of the bees) in individual colonies. If you are grouping hives together tightly and wrapping them they may cluster as a single unit even though there are walls dividing them. In this case adjust the positioning of your stores.
If your hives are light you should begin feeding 2:1 sugar syrup by weight immediately. Actually you should have been doing this all along—depending on where you are located and the forage base available. Remember once the daytime temperatures fall to 45 degrees and below it will be rare for them to take any liquid feed.
If your management plan is to use Fumagilin-B for the prevention of Nosema you should be getting this to your bees in late fall before the daytime temperatures fall below 45 degrees. Recommended fall feeding is two gallons of medicated syrup for each overwintered colony. Remember Fumagilin-B will lose its effectiveness if exposed to sunlight. You should feed this internally to prevent this and verify that your colony is receiving the correct dosage.
There are several mouse guards that we offer and all are effective at keeping the furry little critters out of the hives. I would not solely rely on a wooden entrance reducer as a guard. Mice can and will in some cases chew through or pull out a wooden reducer. Metal or wire is much more secure. If you have experienced mouse damage in a hive then you know what cheap insurance this is.
Emergency Winter Rations and Moisture Control
I have discussed the Mountain Camp method of winter feeding and moisture control in past newsletters and I feel it is worth going over once more.
- Add a solid spacer rim to the top of your stack, about 2” in height.
- Cut two sheets of black & white newspaper to fit exactly inside the walls of your hive body (these will be laid directly on your top bars leaving about 1/3 of ten frames exposed).
- Using a spray bottle full of tap water wet the newspaper so it is fairly saturated but not dripping.
- Fill a 2 lb plastic coffee can with dry granulated cane sugar.
- Dump 1/3 of the sugar on the newspaper and mist it with the spray bottle so it just begins to clump.
- Repeat the process until the sugar is gone.
Why mist the sugar? Because if you don’t the bees may carry it from the hive as foreign material.
When will the bees use this? It has been my observation that they will be up in this sugar in the very early spring.
Are there any side benefits of this? Yes, I believe that this helps absorb the moisture that will be produced by the bees’ respiration and heat that is generated and rises as condensation. My bees can take some really cold weather but they cannot survive being wet and cold. And, should they not need this sugar in the spring, you can use it in a 1:1 spring feed.
Screened Bottom Boards
There is always a lot of debate among people who use screened bottom boards as to whether or not to reinstall the white debris boards back into the colonies before winter. I can only suggest that you take some time to research this and determine your own comfort level with this practice. I leave mine out year-round unless I am installing a new queen or doing a mite drop test. I personally have second-guessed myself during the cold months, especially when the temperature falls into the teens. In fact I have been out the door to install them and then left them out anyway. My bees have survived, especially if I have followed the guidelines above.
Windbreaks are an effective way to protect your hives from winter blows. There are many ways this can be accomplished from straw bales to stakes and landscape fabric. Just place your windbreaks so as to protect your colonies from the wind direction in the winter, generally the north side.
If your hives are located below trees look for any broken or weak branches that may topple a hive during an arctic blow and remove them.
If you follow these guidelines I am confident that this will help your colonies survive through the cold months ahead.