In this posting, I provide a check list of things you need to do to prepare your hives for the cold months of Winter.
Two weeks ago, I harvested the last of my honey supers and added another 22 pounds of honey to the pantry. That brings my total haul for the year to 60 pounds. At that time, I checked the hives and all looked in good order and the hive beetles that invaded one of my hives seems to be under control - I use a trap filled with apple cider vinegar to lure the invaders to their doom.
Now that we are into October, its time for me, and most other bee keepers, to get things in order so that our bees survive the Winter.
Here's the Winter check list:
- If you haven't done so already, remove any remaining supers. During the Winter months, the population of the colony will drop and they will cluster in the center of the hive to keep warm. Removing the supers keeps the size of the hive small so that bees have an easier time keeping the temperature warm enough to ensure their survival. If you harvest honey from these supers and plan to keep the comb for next year, the best way to clean it out of any excess honey prior to storage is to let the bees do the work. Just set the hive boxes in your yard and let the bees "rob" any remaining honey; the bees will leave the comb completely clean and ready for storage. (See below)
- Inspect the hive to make sure that the bees have enough stores for Winter. In cold climates, a bee hive will need about 60 pounds of honey to make it through the Winter. In warmer climates like Northern California where I live, 30-40 pounds will do the trick. You can estimate the amount of honey the colony has by visual inspection -- A deep hive box filled with capped honey will contain about 60 pounds of honey. A medium hive box holds 35 pounds and a shallow hive box holds 25 pounds.).
- If the bees are short on honey for the Winter, feed them sugar syrup. (To make this syrup, boil 2.5 quarts of water and then add 10 pounds of sugar. Remove from the heat, and stir till all the sugar is dissolved.) I don't medicate my bees, but if you do, wait till the syrup has cooled before adding any treatments. Now place the syrup into a feeder and leave this on till the bees stop taking the syrup, or until the temperature drops and the bees form their Winter cluster.
- During the Winter, water can condense on the hive cover and drip down onto the bees, lowering the temperature of the cluster and potentially killing the bees. To prevent this, provide ventilation that will remove any excess moisture. Some bee keepers place a few pop-sickle sticks under the four corners of the inner cover to provide a gap to let air into the hive. I've modified my inner-cover with a notch that allows moisture to escape. I've covered this with wire mesh to allows air in, but keeps mice and other critters out. (see below)
- Add a mouse guard to the front entrance to prevent invasion.
- If you are in a very cold climate, you can provide additional warmth to your hive by wrapping it in black tar paper. The black paper absorbs sunlight and warms the hive. (Because I live in a temperate climate, I've never done this and can't provide any guidance on how to best apply the paper)
If all goes well, your bees will begin emerging from the hive on a warm day in Spring. Here in Northern California we do get a bloom of flowers in January. If the temperature is warm enough, it's possible to see bees forage for this early supply of nectar, even in the dead of Winter.
Photo: During my most recent inspection, I found that both hives have more than enough honey to get through our temperate Northern California Winters.