Updated: Jan 2, 2021
Overwintering Bees - Time Is Now!
Hello Beeks! We are hunkering down now with cold nights and becoming very aware of dropping temps. Its our last few weeks of prepping to be sure that your bees can survive winter. Did you know that honey bees do not heat their entire hive, but only their cluster around the queen bee? The cluster will move on warmer days to a new frame of food and take turns insulating the queen bee and feeding on the honey frames. The cluster can also expand or contract as ambient temps fluctuate. The bees on the outside of the cluster will separate to increase air flow or contract to as temperatures fall. The cluster tightens as the outer workers pull together to create solid insulation. Many insects, like bees can survive winter, which include “hibernation” and diapause (a period of suspended development in an insect, other invertebrate, or mammal embryo, especially during unfavorable environmental conditions.) In some bee species, only the queen survives, reemerging in the spring to then reestablish a new colony for the season. But honey bees remain active throughout the winter by creating their own heat source and so is not considered a true hibernation. To overwinter, bees need enough food stores and carbohydrates to heat the cluster and survive the months where there are no conditions to obtain more food and energy source. Understanding bee biology and how the colony operates is imperative to being a successful and ethical beekeeper. In the northeast our foraging season is shorter than other parts of the U.S. and so late summer we stop and carefully evaluate our honey stores and make sure the hive has enough resources to overwinter. Leaving 50-100 lbs depending on the size of your hive is the goal. Each frame holds about 5-8 lbs of honey depending on the dimensions of your langstroth hive. Many beekeepers keep a couple of resource hives. Use a hive that is thriving to create resources for other hives that are not. For example several of our hives has a an abundance of honey and instead of harvesting it for ourselves, we will use those frames to feed to other smaller colonies which may be short a frame or two. Combining weak colonies is also a consideration when two weak colonies may not survive on their own. If you are feeding your bees in the fall, use a thicker syrup ratio so that the honey bees can dehydrate it quickly enough to store for winter. For winter you can create a candy board from granulated sugar. We never know what the season will bring and if bees go through their stores quickly, having reserves on hand is imperative and acts as insurance. Every year is different. Some colonies never touch the candy board and some chomp in by December and January. The candy board can also create a layer of insulation on top and absorb excess moisture.
SIMPLE SYRUP- Mix 2-3 parts granulated sugar and one part water (using hot water to melt sugar works best). Be sure sugar is melted and then let sit to room temp. Use only granulated sugar... no juices, no confection or raw sugar, no honey (unless it is from your own hive) no "natural sugars" etc. Using other carbohydrate sources can cause the bees dysentery and Nosema. Bee biology can only handle the very simple form of granulated sugar unless you are purchasing a special formula from a beekeeping supply company.
INSULATION As for insulating your hives in the northeast, there are a few trains of thought. Some insulate, some don't. Elements to consider: -Where are your bees originally from, the northeast? Down South? -Do you have wind break near your hives or are they in an open field? -Are your hives in a lot of sun over the winter when trees are bare? -What temps does your region reach in the height of winter? -Do you get a lot of snow? -How does your altitude affect your bees? These questions become important to consider not just for prepping for winter, but when you are considering where to place your hives when you are first setting up your apiary. Our apiary is set up to be between a couple of tree lines to create a natural wind break when storms arise year round. We placed our hives in the sunniest spot on the property to keep the bees warm and active during spring and summer months as well as toasty in winter. Due to our temps getting very low here with high winds in the Hudson Valley, I have opted to insulate if for nothing else, for wind break and creating a moisture barrier because we have a very wet and humid climate. Snow can act as an insulator so some choose not to insulate. If you do decide to feed your bees and insulate for winter, instructions and options are below. Ventilation is key and could determine the outcome of your hive come spring. INSULATING HIVES and Strapping Down for Winter: Bee Cozy's are now available at our shop from NOD Apiary Products in Canada which supply an insulation rating of R8 which is roughly the rating of a thick tree where feral bees overwinter in the wild. At Beez' Apiary we use a combo of home made insulation, cozies, tar paper and wind block techniques.
Insulation Board: Measure your beehive dimensions in height width and depth to create a pattern to cut out your insulation board. Buy a large 2 inch insulation board and cut to size 4 pieces per hive to cover all sides. Each hive may have different dimensions, 8 frame, 10 frame, how many stories is your brood chamber?. etc. (see image below) Leave an inch below your ventilation holes up top and do not cover entrance at bottom. Air flow and allowing your bees to take cleansing flights in winter will help ensure a healthy winter colony. If your hive does not have ventilation, the moisture and frozen water can kill a colony. There are several types of insulation like the pictures below. There are wraps, quilt boxes, tarpaper, bee cozies and more. Researching your style is the best way to go for your property, your bees conditions, sun, wind and even expense. We use ratchet straps to strap our hives to the cinder blocks below the hives. We use cider blocks as the hive stand because it stays dry, creates a great amount of weight for the hive to attach too in a storm and does not allow for critters to borrow in and nest the way wood hive stands can. It also allows us to do a quick weedwack after the bees are in for the night. Ratchet strap your hives to your base and/or put weights on top of your hive to keep the hives in place when the high winds come through during winter blizzards. The time is now to have all your prep work done. Fall goes quickly and we don't know what is in store for us weather wise. Be prepared for anything and give your bees the best shot you can as it is our responsibility as beekeepers to KEEP our bees. They are not wild bees, they are "domesticated" to say the least and we need to tend to them. For more info, check into classes, bee-clubs in your area, or reach out to us any time for questions!! Join our group on Facebook "Blooming Beez" and meet us for our monthly mixer to go over colony maintenance with our volunteers!