Its Time to Winterize!

This month’s club meeting will be all about winterizing our colonies. A very timely topic.  When getting ready to put our girls to bed, several things should be considered:

  • Honey harvesting–to take honey now or in the spring? There are two different schools of thought on this; both of them equally valid.  When you examine your hive and you have one or more supers full of honey, and the two brood boxes have honey, it is safe to take the honey from the supers. That is why most of us put them on in the first place. The honey in the brood boxes will, under normal circumstances, provide the bees with enough food for the winter. If circumstances change, steps can be taken to provide food for the bees in the winter. Some beekeepers prefer to leave one super, as well as the two brood boxes, just in case it is needed. They then harvest the honey in the spring.
  • Mite detection–Examination for mites is an important step in protecting the future of your hive.  There are several ways to do this and each method has its followers. One method is capturing about 100 bees (from the brood area) in a container with powdered sugar in it. Gently shake the container to cover the bees with the powdered sugar then pour them onto a white surface.  The bees will groom off any mites that may be on them. The mites then will appear as tiny black spots in the sugar.  Another method is to use a “sticky board”.  This board lays on the  top of the bottom board, leave in place for three days, remove and count the number of mites.  Yet another way is to use a frame with prearranged drone cells on it.  After the queen has laid eggs in the cells and the worker bees have capped the cells, remove the frame, freeze to kill the drones and the eggs of the mites contained in the drone cells
  • Mite control–If you detect a significant number of mites in your hive (> 10 mites per 100), you now have to decide what to do about it. Again, there are several options.  There are several manufactured medicines available which can be administered after honey harvest.  There are also some “home remedies” such as using the drone frames.
  • Weather protection–There are several steps you can take to “weatherize” your hive. In the past I have: done nothing; used straw bales and a top cover; used winter hive box covers; and insulation boards.  All of these have met with different degrees of success. If your hive is placed in a naturally protected area, nothing may be needed.  Straw bales with a cover provide protection from the wind which robs the hive of heat. This is also true of the insulation boards and winter hive box covers.  Each hive is different, each setting is different and each winter is different.  Bottom line is: you can’t go wrong giving the hive some protection to help them conserve heat during the winter.

One of the biggest hurdles for a hive surviving the winter in the Black Hills area is the wide fluctuation of temperatures during the winter. Often, after a hive has died, there is still honey in the hive but large numbers of dead bees throughout. This suggests that a warm spell developed, the bees came out of cluster (or at least partially), then the temperature quickly dropped and the bees were not able to get back into cluster.

A beekeeper cannot control everything. We can help our colonies by being vigilant, timely, and thoughtful in handling our girls during the year.