Jack Frost is telling us that the growing season is over and we must prepare the hives for winter. Hopefully we have left enough honey and pollen to carry the bees through the winter until the dandelions bloom next spring. A hungry colony of bees can consume 80 pounds of honey during one of our long cold winters. Now it’s time to winterize the hives.
Mouse guards need to be installed to deter that pesky varmint who is looking for a warm, dry winter shelter, well-stocked with plenty of food. A simple hinge of folded 1/2″ hardware cloth, wedged into the entry slot, is an easy do-it-yourself method. Secure it with a few staples to keep the skunk from moving it but most important, don’t wait—get it done right away!
Now that there is no brood and no supers of honey to be harvested, mite treatments can be applied without affecting the purity of the honey. Follow the label instructions and be sure to remove the treatment at the proper time to prevent the medication from losing its effectiveness.
Do not leave too many empty super boxes on the wintering hive. This only adds more space to be heated and requires more honey to be consumed. The ideal arrangement for wintering in our region is two deep brood boxes, with the bee cluster in the lowest one, and one medium super full of honey on the top. Move frames around to assure that honey is directly above the cluster and pollen alongside.
Check the bear fence and leave it in place with power on until the snow buries the hot wire. Remember that the bears are extra hungry now and need to build fat to last them through their hibernation.
Since removal of respiration moisture is essential during winter, make sure that adequate airflow is provided at both top and bottom of the hive. Add some type of insulation beneath the outer cover to prevent heat loss from below. Some use newspaper, burlap or pillows of straw to insulate and absorb moisture at the same time.
Wrapping of the hive boxes continues to be controversial. Never attempt to seal the hive with tightly wrapped plastic! If wrapping is provided, ensure that it is not installed too tightly to prevent moisture from escaping from the hive sides. Do not cover up the front side that faces the south, which would prevent the sun from warming that side. It is actually more important to provide an effective windbreak than to wrap each hive.
You can also try adding a Hot Box Winterizer with moisture board. The heat from the bees is held in the hive by the hot box, adding insulation, while the moisture board allows for cross-flow ventilation and helps to draw in additional moisture. Vapors in the hive will travel through the hot box to be captured within the moisture board to be evaporated away.
Careful hive management can contribute to successful wintering of a healthy colony of bees.