November 6 – Preparing for Winter
Well, the season is drawing to a close, and my hive is still in good condition.
We haven’t had a frost yet, but there have been nightly lows in the 30’s.
The bees will have ejected the poor drones by now as they go into survival mode for the winter.
And there are a few things I can do as a beekeeper to help them survive.
Make Sure the Colony Has Plenty of Food
The first and most important thing I can do is to make sure the bees have enough honey stores to see them through the winter.
How much do they need?
That’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many variables to factor in.
As a general rule of thumb, the equivalent of 1 deep super FULL of honey will suffice in most locales and situations.
But there’s no such thing as too much. And Unfortunately, my bees don’t have enough.
We’ve had a very dry summer and fall, and though the goldenrod bloomed, it didn’t produce much nectar.
So I’m feeding my bees lots of sugar syrup this fall.
For fall feeding I use a much thicker syrup than for spring feeding. I make syrup with at least a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to water.
No Mice Allowed!
I’ve also reduced the size of the entrance. That’s done for 2 reasons:
To restrict the cold air flowing into the hive
To discourage mice from entering the hive
Mice just love to make beehives their winter home.
During warm weather, of course, bees won’t allow a mouse to enter the hive. But when the bees are clustered during cold weather, they can’t do anything to prevent a mouse from entering.
If a bee leaves the cluster, it dies.
So during cold spells, a mouse can have a high old time building a nest and chowing down on honey and wax.
When the bees break cluster, they can chase the mouse out – or even make it pay the ultimate price for its boldness.
But the damage will have been done.
And opening a hive for spring inspection and finding lots of mice damage is certainly disheartening for a beekeeper.
(I once had a mouse jump straight up at my face as I removed a cover for spring inspection and peered into the hive. I don’t know which of us was the more startled!)
In the photo below, you’ll see that I used a wooden entrance reducer.
That’s not really the best defense against a mouse invasion. A really determined mouse could chew the opening large enough to permit entry.
But winters aren’t very severe in my location, and its rare for the bees to be clustered and unable to guard the entrance for very long stretches.
Still, it’s best to use a metal entrance reducer of some sort; there are several designs available.
And some beekeepers just fold a piece of ¼ inch mesh hardware cloth into the entrance.
Airtight is NOT Right
As long as they have sufficient stores, bees are able to survive incredibly cold temperatures.
But what’s much more harmful to the bees is a buildup of moisture and carbon dioxide inside the hive.
If the hive is tightly sealed, then the heat and moisture generated by the cluster rises to the top of the hive and cannot escape. The moisture then condenses on the cold top cover and rains back down upon the bees in their cluster.
Sounds miserable, doesn’t it!
In a tightly sealed hive, carbon dioxide can also build up to unhealthy levels.
So it’s important to have an outlet at the top to allow warm moist air to escape. Though it may seem counter intuitive, it’s not beneficial to trap that air inside the hive.
I don’t know if you can make it out in the photo below, but I just prop the inner cover up a crack by placing a couple of sticks under it at one end.
That’s a quick and simple way of providing an outlet for the moist air.
If you live in an area with lots of snowfall, you should provide an upper ventilation source large enough for the bees to use as an alternate entrance in case the bottom entrance becomes clogged with snow.
A Successful First Season
All things considered, I believe the first season of this colony went well. My hive is a strong, healthy colony.
There are no assurances, of course, but odds are good that they’ll survive the winter and be ready for a productive season next year.
If you’ve been following this narrative while starting your own hive, I hope your first season has been successful as well.
And I wish us both a booming honey crop for next year!