Seasonal management: Getting your hives ready for winter

By Stacey Adair

Finally! Fall is upon us, and so, come the responsibilities in the bee yard for winter preparations along with the beautiful fall colors that we are soon to see. The weather has been a little more cooperative this year than last, and the bees have been winging in pollen and nectar the last few weeks, but do not assume they are ready for the winter. You must check their honey stores! It is best to actually get into each colony while the weather is still warm, and check for a laying queen, sufficient honey stores, and to make sure they are parasite free.

October and November are the months recommended to feed Fumagillin which controls Nosema infection. Nosema is responsible for spring dwindle disease, and has been found to be a component of Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. Our speaker this month, Phil Craft, will be speaking specifically about Nosema, its effects in the hive, and how to treat for it, so I won’t go over it again here.

If you find colonies that are lighter on stores than needed to get through the winter, we have plenty of ways to get feed into them. In the fall it is best to feed a 2:1 sugar to water mixture. Thicker syrup is recommended in the fall so that it can be dried quicker for use as feed in the colony. If you have a few colonies that need feeding, you must actually feed all colonies to prevent robbing of the weaker colonies. Feed put only on the lighter colonies will attract the other, stronger colonies and robbing and then usually death of the weaker colony ensues.

Feeding can be done by using hive top feeders, pail feeders, Boardman feeders, baggies or division board feeders. All feeders have pros and cons to using them. The most common issue with most of the feeders is leakage with possible drowning, and robbing. The pail feeder is easy to use over the inner cover opening, and can be replaced without disturbing the brood area. An empty box must be placed over the feeder to keep robbers away and the weather out. The Boardman feeder has the convenience of seeing the feed level easily, but does have the problem of robber bees, and during the cold, bees will not move down to the feeder. The division board feeder replaces two frames in the brood box and bees tend to drown in this type of feeder. You must also open the colony to replace feed, so may be a less desirable type of feeder. Hive top and Baggie feeders have the convenience of placement on top of the hive which is easy to refill, but both do have the problems of potential leakage into the brood area. Use whatever type of feeder that suits you best, just make sure to put the feed to theses gals ASAP. If the cool weather sets in and the bees quit taking liquid feed, dry fondant candy can be used as well.

After the fumagillin is fed, and you feel the bees have sufficient stores to get them through the winter, a few other things you can do for their protection include ventilating, and closing down the front entrance to avoid pests. Inadequate ventilation during the winter can lead to moisture accumulation on the inner cover, and this can lead to dripping onto the cluster which will kill them in the winter.

Ventilation can be accomplished in many ways. You may simply place a rock under the outer cover, or use an inner cover with a front and rear entrance hole. Dadant makes a ventilated inner cover that is completely screened and will work as well. The idea is for the moisture to escape the hive.

Preventing pests is another concern in the winter. The standard wooden entrance can be placed in the hive entrance, but another suggestion I heard was to use about a 20 gauge hardware cloth as an entrance reducer. Just cut the appropriate length, make it about 3 inches wide, fold, and insert into the front of the hive. It allows easy access for the bees to take cleaning flights, dispose of dead bees which might accumulate in the hive, provides excellent ventilation and prevents mice and skunks from damaging the hive. I’m definitely going to try this recommendation this winter.

Pick up all debris from the bee yard, make sure the top covers are weighted down, and make sure there is a gentle slope forward to the front of the hive to prevent rain from rolling into the hive. If you have controlled parasites, have a laying queen going into the winter, have sufficient food stores, and prevent condensation and pests from harming your colonies, your bees should make it over the winter. If any one of the above is missing it may spell disaster in the spring.

Members, please feel free to ask questions at the next meeting about over-wintering your colonies. Our directors and longtime beekeepers are always willing to offer suggestions, and Phil Craft will also be happy to address any issues you might be having.

Hope to see everyone at the October meeting.

Stacey Adair 

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