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Author: Phillip

How I Prepare My Beehives For Winter

How I Prepare My Beehives For Winter

    The following was originally posted on December 7th, 2015, but was edited and updated on October 27th, 2016, to reflect my current practices, such as they are.

Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.

One of my bee hives after a  snow storm in 2013.
One of my bee hives after a snow storm in 2013. The bees survived.

I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (Nov. 04, 2015.)
The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (November 4th, 2015.)

So the big question is: “How do you prepare your hives for winter?”

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Burr Comb

Burr Comb

Today’s the day I removed all the feeders from my hives.

I placed a hive top feeder over a rim on one of my hives about a month ago. I removed the feeder today and found burr comb built up over the top bars, the bees filling in the space I created with the rim.

Burr comb built up over the top bars. (Oct. 23, 2016.)
Burr comb built up over the top bars. (Oct. 23, 2016.)
My best guess is the bees ran out of room for the syrup, so they began building comb above the top bars so they could fill it with syrup.

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Moisture Quilt in a Nutshell

Moisture Quilt in a Nutshell

Here’s a quick video that demonstrates the installation and use of a moisture quilt for winter insulation and ventilation.

All of my moisture quilts are built differently because I’ve never put much planning into building them (I have zero woodworking skills). Some are converted ventilation rims that require a rim underneath, like the one in this video. Others have built in rims as part of the design. Some fit perfectly and create a tight seal on the bottom. Some don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter either way because they all do a great job at wicking moisture out of the hives and keeping my bees dry all winter.

Moisture quilts, in my experience, aren’t necessary in local climates that aren’t particularly damp and foggy and wet. Smaller colonies that don’t produce much condensation from the bees’ respiration don’t always need extra ventilation or insulation either. A piece of hard insulation over the inner cover often does the trick. Moisture quilts can be a bit scary, too, when it seems like half the colony on warm days attaches itself to the bottom screen of the quilt. But for me the pros outweigh the cons. If dampness is a problem inside any of my hives, I know a moisture quilt will fix it.

Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the summer too.

An Infrared Guessing Game

An Infrared Guessing Game

Here are some quick snapshots I took this morning of my hives using an infrared camera device attached to my cell phone. It doesn’t provide the most helpful readings at the moment, probably because it’s not cold enough outside to highlight the heat that’s radiating from the insides of the hives. I also used the default settings on the device. More precise calibrations might provide me with better images. But for now, here are my best guesses about what’s happening inside my hives according to these infrared images.

My best guess for this 2-deep hive:  the cluster is favouring the top box and there's a crack between the boxes where heat is escaping. (Oct. 22, 2016.)
My best guess for this 2-deep hive: the cluster is favouring the top box and there’s a crack between the boxes where heat is escaping. (Oct. 22, 2016.)

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A Stubby Ragged Queen

A Stubby Ragged Queen

I purchased four mated queens in August with the intention of splitting some of my older colonies to create four new colonies. The requeening didn’t work out so well, but eventually I think (I hope) I got one colony started up well from a split and another one requeened. The other two mated queens were killed outright and another replacement queen I picked up a week later isn’t dead, but it’s barely laid an egg and it’s currently living in a nuc box — and it looks like this:

A stubby, ragged looking queen. (Oct. 13, 2016.)
A stubby, ragged looking queen. (Oct. 13, 2016.)
It doesn’t look good. Her wings are cracked too.

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A Screened Hive Top Feeder

A Screened Hive Top Feeder

Last year I posted a video of a simple modification I make to hive top feeders that prevents bees from drowning in them. I staple screen over the syrup reservoirs and along the bottom edge inside the reservoirs so there is no way the bees can get into the reservoirs and drown.

If the screen above the reservoirs extended over the entrance area of the feeder (the part where the bees come up to access the syrup, whatever part that’s called), then the bees would also be contained inside the hive. I didn’t have enough screen to do all that recently, but I did add some screen to the entrance area of the feeder so it looks like this:

Hive top feeder with screen stapled over the area where the bees comes up. (Oct. 02, 2016.)
Hive top feeder with screen stapled over the area where the bees comes up. (Oct. 02, 2016.)
And guess what? It works.

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Nuc Colony Packed with Bees

Nuc Colony Packed with Bees

I bought three nucs from the Newfoundland Bee Company in mid-July and today, two and a half months later, each of the subsequent hives are overflowing with bees. Here’s a not-so-great photo I snapped during a marathon beekeeping session that shows what I found in one of them when I opened it today. I even found two frames of capped brood in the top deep of this hive. I’ve never had nuc-hives so full of bees at this time of year before.

A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too.  That queen is on fire.  (Sept. 30, 2016.)
A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too. That queen is on fire. (Sept. 30, 2016.)
I have to applaud the Newfoundland Bee Company. The queens that came with their nucs are incredible. I probably could have gotten a honey harvest from these hives if I had thought to super them up. My only concern is that there are too many bees in the hive and they’ll eat through their winter honey stores too fast. I know the cluster will reduce in size by the time November rolls around, but at the moment it would be one seriously gigantic cluster.

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Enough Honey For a Year

Enough Honey For a Year

The only honey I tasted before learning to become a beekeeper was the usual pasteurized junk sold in grocery stores. Now that I have access to raw honey made by honey bees that I know up close and personal, it’s a whole other world of appreciation. In my household of two, we consume about 4 litres of honey every year. Here’s what it looks like when I stick it in the freezer, with an extra jar thrown in because why not?

My personal stash of honey in the freezer. (Sept. 28, 2016.)
My personal stash of honey in the freezer. (Sept. 28, 2016.)

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Straining Honey

Straining Honey

I extracted about 13 kg / 30 pounds or about 11 litres of honey from one of my hive’s today. Here’s a clip of the honey being strained:

Considering that this was a rebuilding year for me and honey was not a priority, 13 kg is more than enough to make me happy. I’ll easily have enough to keep myself in honey until this time next year. (Sorry, it’s not for sale. I’m giving away what I’m not keeping for myself and it’s all been accounted for already.)

One more time, but in slow motion!

When I kept my bees in Logy Bay and Portugal Cove, I used to get light honey in the spring and dark honey in the fall. This honey is not dark. Judging from what I’ve seen in bloom in my area of Flatrock, I would guess it’s made mostly from Fireweed and Clover nectar, both of which produce a light honey. It doesn’t have the creamy opaque appearance of Goldenrod honey, nor any of the darkness of Japanese Knotweed honey. I look forward to next year when, hopefully, most of my colonies will come into spring at full strength instead of slowly building up over the summer like they had to do this year.

I’ll probably post photos and more video of the extraction later this week.