December 2018 Introduction: I’d like to delete this post or at least rewrite it and simplify it, but I’m leaving it alone because the comments are informative. Many of the comments during the first few years of this blog are informative. Things slowed down considerably after I was forced to move my hives because of unpleasant neighbours, but before that I was getting about 3,000 readers a day and discussions through comments were pretty consistent.
A leaky hive isn’t a huge concern. Most of what I thought of as leaks was probably condensation building up inside the hive because I had everything sealed with duct tape. It’s not a huge problem to find a few cracks between the inner cover and the top deep. The cracks at the top of the hive provide a little extra ventilation.
Today I don’t bother with insulated inner covers. I add a rim over the top deep to make room for sugar bricks and I put a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover. If I find moisture inside the hives, I create some extra ventilation by adding moisture quilts or some sort of ventilation box on top.
This post was written during my first winter when I thought pollen feeding was necessary, but it isn’t necessary. Pollen can help boost up a weak colony, but I’m not sure a healthy colony needs pollen early in the winter, keeping in mind that pollen stimulates the queen the lay more, which means more bees that need more sugar and honey, which means once I start feeding pollen, I have to be ready to keep feeding sugar and then sugar syrup so all the newly emerging bees don’t starve. And that’s all fine for saving a weak colony, but healthy colonies that are artificially stimulated to expand through pollen feeding can expand so rapidly that swarming can occur as early as May (which I have experienced). Which is fine if I’m ready to deal with swarms or create splits before the over-populated colonies swarm. But I have to monitor those colonies closely and make sure the queen doesn’t run out of room to lay. I also need equipment standing by so I can create those splits quickly or catch a swarm if necessary. When the bees shift into swarming-mode, they don’t mess around. It becomes their #1 priority. They act fast. Anyway, here’s the original post from 2011:
It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:
Hive #1 was crowded with bees on top (both of them were). It seemed to have plenty of sugar left, though not much pollen. Hive #2 wasn’t a pretty sight when I opened it up. I’ll talk about that after the video.
As you can see, Hive #1 wasn’t too bad. But Hive #2 was unpleasant. A pollen patty that was added about three weeks ago was untouched and gooey. The black winter wrap curled up and came loose on a corner of the hive a couple weeks ago. Melting snow and rain got into the hive. The wood on that corner was a bit mouldy too. Hopefully the moisture that got into the hive didn’t do much damage. Most of the bees would have been clustered in the centre of the hive anyway, not off to the corner. I’m hoping it’s safe to keep the gooey pollen patty in there. I’ve got all the cracks sealed with duct tape now, so maybe it’ll gradually dry up and the bees will consider eating it again. Come spring, if all goes well, the colony in Hive #2 will be able to deal with the mess in that corner of the hive and move on. I hope so.
Both colonies could be dead by this time next month for all I know. It looks to me like a touch and go kind of situation. At least the hives now have as much pollen patties and candy cakes as I can give them. I’m not going to feed them again until the snow is gone and the bees are able to fly around everyday.
I won’t be able to confirm anything until after the first inspection probably some time in May, but I suspect both colonies weren’t able to build up enough honey stores last summer to get them through the winter. They were started from nucs on July 18th and began to shut down for the winter some time in September. That’s barely two months. It’s no wonder they’ve been clustered on the top bars since the middle of January. (I sure hope this year’s nucs arrive sooner.) And what a mess it is trying to add pollen patties and candy cakes when just about every bee in the colony is getting in the way.
I have no desire to deal with that kind of situation again. So the plan for next year is:
1) Add a big mother candy board to the hives sometime in January instead of candy cakes. I’ll throw in some pollen supplement while I’m at it and that should easily get any honey-starved colonies through the entire winter. I won’t have to prop off the top once.
2) Add a spacer (a.k.a. a shim or a feeder rim) between the top bars and the inner cover to give plenty of room for any pollen patties just in case they’re required.
3) Wrap the hives as usual but duct tape over the crack between the top brood box and the inner cover so there’s no chance of any rain or melting snow leaking in.
4) Add a piece of hard insulation as usual.
I am completely, 100% sick and tired of winter. Absolutely no doubt about it.