Here’s the low down on exactly how we wrapped and prepared each of our four-month-old double-deep Langstroth hives for winter:
1) Built and installed the world’s simplest, cheapest mouse-proof entrance reducer and made sure to check the hive for mice beforehand.
2) Flipped the inner cover to the winter position (with the flat side facing up) and placed a piece of hard insulation over it. The insulation has a R-7.5 rating, whatever that is. Apparently, R-5 or above will keep the condensation from forming in the hive. It looks like this before the top cover is added:
3) Wrapped the hives in felt. The felt — a “Type 15 asphalt felt” according to the label — is a thin black tar-like paper that’s used for roofing and putting siding on houses (but don’t ask me, because I’ve never seen the stuff before now). It looks like black construction paper I remember from elementary school, but obviously stronger (though I could still tear it by hand if I got a good grip on it). I bought a big roll of it at Home Depot for $25 and stapled it to the hive just like David Burns. Here’s what that looks like without the top covers on the hives:
UPDATE (Nov. 15/11): See Winter Preparations – Part 2: Hive Wrap for another example of hive wrapping. Note in that post how wrap is high enough to fold down over the top piece of insulation, which makes it easier to tuck it under the top cover.
Hive #1 on the left has two thinner strips of felt stapled on and overlapping, probably not the best way to do it. Hive #2 on the right (that’s the back of the hive) has a single wider piece wrapped around. The felt covers the bottom up to the top so that when the top cover is put in place, much of the felt will tuck underneath. In front of the hive, the felt is low and tight enough against the hive to hold the mouse-proof entrance reducer in place. Which kind of looks like this:
We used a pair of scissors to cut a hole through the felt so the upper entrance / ventilation hole would be exposed like this:
Then we pushed the top cover down nice and snug. Some of the felt crinkled underneath, but that just made it stay on tighter. We placed a concrete block on top of each hive to weigh them down for the winter like this:
And that’s all she wrote.
As far as I know, each hive is packed with honey to keep the bees alive for the winter. The wrap acts as a windbreak and maybe gives the hive some extra warmth when the sun comes out. The mouse-proof entrance reducer will keep the mice out of the hive. The insulation between the inner and outer cover will keep the hive warm and prevent condensation from building up and dripping on the bees and killing them. Bees can take the cold, but it’s the wet that kills them more than anything (so I’ve been told). The upper entrance will provide some ventilation for excess moisture to escape. Theoretically, I shouldn’t have to touch the hives until late February or March, when I might have to feed them pollen and syrup if their winter stores are running low. Whatever happens over the next few months, I can’t do anything about it. So I’m just going to relax.
Okay, I’m relaxed.
UPDATE (Oct. 18/11): Some beekeepers place the piece of insulation under the inner cover, not over the inner cover like we’ve demonstrated here. If you go that way, just make sure you still have an upper entrance for ventilation. Ventilation is key.
ADDENDUM (Oct. 21/13): Read more at Honey Bee Suite for a method of wrapping that allows for re-use of the roofing felt.
DEC. 13/13: I add dry sugar to my hives around the same time as I wrap and insulate them for winter. I used to wait until January or February, but even then it can be too late for some colonies short on honety, and it doesn’t hurt the bees to have sugar in the hive once the below-freezing temperatures kick in, so why not?
PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates create more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.