First Opening of Winter Hives

It can be a little unnerving opening a beehive in the middle of the winter. But I suppose it depends on what you mean by winter. I was able to open my hives today — the first time I’ve opened them this winter — because there wasn’t a breath of wind and it was cold but not freezing. A common cold damp day in Newfoundland that makes your bones ache in a bad way. And when I say opened, I mean I hadn’t removed the inner cover from a hive and exposed the bees to the cold winter air yet.

Opening a hive on a fairly mild winter day (5°C / 41°F) and adding a rim to make space for sugar bricks.

This could be a record for me. Usually my curiosity gets the best of me. Normally I’ve long since torn apart at least one hive by now. This year or season of whatever you want to call it has been different, though, and I mean for the past year, all of 2020 and up to now. I haven’t taken a lazy approach to beekeeping, but I’ve had experiences that have helped focus my priorities — and letting myself feel any kind of stress about beekeeping is not a priority. I don’t over-think things like I used to. (Over-thinkers and over-tinkers make up a significant portion of the beekeeping population. Don’t let anyone try to tell you different.) I don’t concern myself with things I can’t do anything about. But I don’t think lazy is the word for it either. I guess I’m just not too concerned about my bees anymore, because I know they’re probably going to be okay.

A pollen patty and sugar brick ready to be placed over the top bars (the top of the hive where the bees are hanging out).

I’m kind of like these radical parents we sometimes hear about who let their kids walk to school on their own. “Be good. Have a fun day. I love you. Now off you go!” I believe the term is “free-range” parenting. I’m a free-range beekeeper now. One of my colonies recently survived a week in the middle of winter during freezing rain, snow and high winds — all of it with the hive top blown off, completely exposed to the elements. And those bees grew up to be one of the strongest colonies I’ve ever seen. (I’ve got detailed records of it in the vault. I’ll post a video about it some day.)

Hard insulation over the inner cover with a mesh-covered hole in the middle. Genius or stupid? We’ll find out.

I guess when I add up the time and personal effort I’ve put into beekeeping, the pure luck that I’ve seen contribute to the success of many new beekeepers, along with the disasters I’ve created with my bees over the years when I should have left well enough alone, it seems to have left me with a good sense of what I need to do and what I don’t. A balance, I guess you might call it. I know what I can get away with.

A sugar cake (or brick) placed over the cluster, just in case the bees are running low on honey.

Or maybe I’m just as foolish as I was the day I started. At any rate, here’s a video that shows how I usually open a hive in the winter for the purpose of giving the bees some emergency sugar feed, along with a pollen patty. I put a rim (or a shim) beneath the inner cover to make room for the sugar and patties, and that’s about it. The details are in the video. I’ve got two versions. A short version that cuts out all the junk, and a long version that might provide some inadvertent insights for the more dedicated students of backyard beekeeping.

SHORT VERSION (8 minutes focused on adding sugar to the hive):

LONG VERSION (26 minutes rambling all over the place):