Our guest speaker at this month’s meeting was Carol Cottrill. Carol was the first woman Master Beekeeper in Maine and is currently the secretary of the Eastern Apicultural Society. Carol’s topic was overwintering your hives.
When do we start getting ready for winter? Carol says it is the day you put your hive together!
And, she says, THINK LIKE A BEE!
Consider your hive site. Know where the sun is going to be in the winter. Make sure you have a wind break and your hive is not on a hill. Avoid a ravine where there is excess damp and cold.
To successfully overwinter bees, you must know what is going on in your hive. Listen and pay attention. Good health is important. The following are conditions for raising healthy winter bees:
Good Population. To successfully overwinter a hive, there must be 25,000 – 30,000 bees. That is at least 6 frames of bees. Smaller hives can be combined as long as they are healthy. The newspaper method works well to combine hives but keep an eye on ventilation so as not to overheat the bees.
Queen. Assess the condition of your queen during your summer months so you can replace her, if necessary. She needs to be able to raise healthy winter bees. Keep an eye on the brood chambers to insure that the queen has plenty of room to lay eggs. Conversely, a strong fall nectar flow can plug up the brood chambers.
Varroa. It is absolutely imperative to monitor during the summer months for varroa mites. When brood is present, 70-80% of the female mites are under the brood cap. About 3 mites will be hatched in drone cells and 1 mite in worker cells. When brood is present, female mites have a life expectancy of 27 days. Mites can live all winter when brood is not present. It is important to watch the temperature in making decisions about mite treatment. The Honey Bee Healthy Coalition has a user-friendly, very helpful algorithm on its website to help you determine which treatment is best for you. Mite management must begin by mid-summer for successful wintering. Mites and viruses are most present after the main flow and bees are not reproducing but the mites are.
Tracheal mites. Not as common as varroa. Products that treat varroa such as formic acid or thymol products are effective on tracheal mites.
Nosema. The goal of colony is to convert pollen and nectar into bees and honey. Nosema is a stress disease that suppresses efficient food conversion. Nosema causes poor hive build-up and reduced honey production. This failure to use pollen and nectar decreases the life of the bees and causes hive failure.
Hive configuration. Brood/eggs/young should be in the bottom box going into winter. Above the brood should be full of honey and addition super of honey should be placed on top before winter. Carol suggests moving old frames that are over 3 years old or has a lot of drone comb to the side of boxes in the fall. Then they can be removed in the spring.
Sufficient Honey. Carol suggests making sure the bottom brood box has 2 frames of honey on the outside. The second up brood box should be full of honey. In a warm fall, bees can consume stores before winter, so be sure to watch the hive to make sure the bees don’t eat their stores. Supplemental feeding may be necessary after the first frosts on warm days. If you have extracted, the sticky supers can be placed over the inner cover (separate from hive) for the bees to clean up and bring down into the hive. Do not leave them sticky frames out in the yard – they will rob/fight/and kill each other in the process of taking the honey from them. If needed, feed sugar syrup in a 2:1 ratio. Feed early enough in the fall so it can be evaporated down (process, store, and ripen). Finish feeding by mid-October (in the north). Prepare candy boards/fondants so that bees do not go through their stores and die during the long winter months.
Entrance reducer. An entrance reducer will prevent too much draft in the bottom box where you want the queen to lay. It also excludes mice and shrews. ½ inch hardware cloth works well. Be careful that the lower entrance does not get blocked by snow or dead bees.
Note: Carol suggests turning the inner cover upside down during the winter so that notch is down and the draft can exit the front of the hive rather than having to come up the middle of the hive then out the front notch.
Ventilation and moisture control. It is important to vent moisture out upper entrance and to have something in place that will absorb moisture. An insulated board or some other material, such as newspaper, is helpful especially when it creates dead air space between bees and the outer cover.
Candy board/fondant also helps absorb moisture.
Thermal gain. Some people wrap their hives which can allow the cluster to expand more. Carol paints her hives dark to absorb heat from the winter sun. Many people wrap their hive in 30 weight underlay tar paper that is 78” long. Others use other insulating materials around their hives. Insulation can keep hive from warming up on a warm winter day, but can keep the hive from getting cold very quickly when nighttime temperatures
plummet after a warm winter day. Dead air space or insulation under hive’s landing board helps to protect the hive from the cold as well.
Winter Months. Winter bees are physiologically different than summer bees and having more fat reserve, live longer. They are not as active as they have no brood to feed. During the winter, keep colonies quiet and minimize disturbance. Dry, cold winters are the best for bees as they remain less active and consume less stores. The population of the colony is at its lowest during February and March. Important: Keep an eye on your hive during the winter months to insure that your bees do not get to the top of the hive
and run out of food.
We would like to thank Carol for a very interesting and informative presentation to help us overwinter strong healthy colonies.
By: Julie Hundley
Photography: Beth Goodwin