Bees are ready for winter

Now that it is November it is time to get serious about getting the apiary ready for winter.

Bees do not hibernate in the winter so they need enough food to carry them over until the first blossoms come out in late March/early April (imagine not being able to get groceries from Sept -March!).   Ideally,each hive would have 100 lbs+ of honey for the winter.  When I checked the hives in late August, most had about 12-14 frames of honey = 40-50 lbs – so only about half of what I’d like to see.  I gave each hive 5 gallons of 2:1 sugar syrup – which should approximately double the stores they have.  While sugar syrup isn’t as nutritious as honey, it will supplement their stores so they can survive the winter.

NH beekeepers stop feeding sugar syrup around mid-Oct. After that, the bees won’t have enough time to store and “cure” the sugar water – and also, it is starting to get cold enough where the bees are not out flying and “cleansing” (aka going to the bathroom) every day – so we want to minimize liquid we add to the hives.

Just a side note – Bees are very hygienic – they don’t go to the bathroom in the hive (unless they are very sick).  This means during the winter when it is cold, the bees have to “hold it” until it is warm enough for them to take a cleansing flight – that could be a week or more in our cold winters.    When you get one of those nice January thaw days, you can bet the bees will be out flying around, pooping all over the place.. and leaving little yellow dots on the snow all around the apiary (and on you if you go see what they are doing)!

Besides not having enough food, there are three other challenges the bees have in winter :

  1.  Excess moisture in the hive– if the hive doesn’t have good ventilation, excess moisture can build up and freeze at night.  The next day as the sun hits the hive, the frozen moisture melts, causing a small rainstorm inside. If the bees get wet, they can’t easily dry off and will freeze when it gets cold again.

I do a couple things to ensure my hives don’t have excess moisture.  I use a screened bottom board which I leave open all winter so air gets into the hive and can flow up through the frames and out a notch in the inner cover.  Also, I put an “absorption board” on top of the inner cover so it can absorb any excess moisture in the hive.  I’ve found that in the winter, the bees will actually go to this board if they want to get a “drink” since it holds that moisture.

  1. Cold temperatures – most think the bees need to be protected from the cold because they will freeze – which technically, if a bee is by itself  can happen, but in the hive,  as the temperature drops, the bees form a cluster & huddle together.  While in the cluster they flap their wings generating heat & keeping the cluster temperature between 45-60F – no matter how cold it is outside.   The center of the cluster is the warmest – that is where the queen is.  The workers will rotate from the center to the edge so everyone gets to stay warm.   The real issue with cold is that the lower the temperature, the less the bees can break cluster to  move around to get food. Generating heat by flapping their wings  burns lots of calories.
  1. Wind  – is one of the biggest problems in winter because if the wind gets into the hive, it can blow away all that warm air the bees are generating.

To help the bees with the wind (and it does help some with the cold), I wrap my hives sometime in mid-Nov and leave the wraps on until early-to-mid April.   I wrap them either with tar paper or some “bee cozies” that I made from marine vinyl & board insulation.  The wrap’s primary purpose is to prevent the wind from entering via any unsealed cracks, but it also helps heat up the hive a bit. As the dark surface heats up, it radiates into the hive.

I wrapped my hives earlier this week:   Here’s how it looks – the black wraps are the tar paper & the green ones are the bee cozies.

Hives all wrapped & ready for winter
Hives all wrapped & ready for winter

On the couple “warm” ( > 45F) days this week,  the bees from all the hives were out taking cleansing flights.  My fingers are crossed that they all make it through the winter. I’ll be checking them about once a month to see how they are doing & will  post a status to let you know!

#NHbees  #winteringBees #BeeWraps




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