We worry about our hives in the winter, don’t we? Are they cold? Are they diseased? Will they survive? Is my queen alive? We want to do something to help them along. While there is very little we can do at this point to help our bees, it does make us feel better to be actively checking on our hives during the winter.
1. PROVIDE FOOD
An average size colony has the same nutritional needs of a medium size dog. Bees need protein and carbohydrates just like us, just like most animals. Do your bees have enough honey (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein)? Bees consume their food in the winter to stay warm. Ideally, if the temperature stays around 30-40 degrees (f) they consume the least amount of food. But the colder it gets the more food they consume to generate heat.
Remember you cannot lift frames out of the hive when temperatures are below 60 degrees (f). If you do, you can damage developing pupa of bees. But you can lift the top off briefly to take a 30 second peak at food supplies by looking down between the frames of comb. Keep food on top of the winter cluster all winter long. This does not guarantee that your bees will make it, but at least they will not die from starvation.
2. WIND BLOCK
Some studies have shown a slight advantage to wrapping a hive with roofing paper. Instead, I like the idea of a wind block. If you wrap your hive you’ll also need to provide more upper ventilation to reduce excessive condensation that causes cold water to drip on the colonies. With a wind bock, the fierce winter winds hitting the hive is reduced. Be careful. Do not place stray or hay bails next to the hive. They can hold water and this can provide too much moisture around the hive. Keep your wind block several feet back from the hive to help the area around the hive remain as dry as possible. You may have a natural wind block such as a grove of trees as in the photo or a shed. This works great.
Make sure your hive is stable on its stand throughout the winter. As the ground freezes and thaws, your stand or blocks can shift and your hive may topple over. Also, if you broke the propolis seal on your top cover, a harsh winter storm could blow the top off. Regularly check your hive for any shifting and keep it stable all winter. Keep a rock or weight on top to help stabilize the hive.
4. KEEP MICE OUT
Mice will kill your hive if they nest over the winter in your hive. Take a flashlight when it’s dark, remove your entrance reducer or mouse guard and make sure you cannot see a mouse nest on your bottom board. If you see a pile of grass in a corner there is a mouse in your hive. If there is, find a friend to help you lift off the hive from the bottom board and if you are lucky the mice will stay in their nest on the exposed bottom board and you can get rid of them and put the hive back down on the bottom board and reduce the entrance.
5. KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR CRACKS
If your equipment is old and falling to pieces, you might find corners missing and large cracks. Duct tape or metal tape can seal the gaps until you can replace your equipment in the spring. Broken bottom boards can allow mice to get in, so keep an eye out for drafty cracks.
6. PUT YOUR EAR ON THE HIVE AND TAP
You can put your ear on the side of your hive and tap and you may hear an increased buzzing. This serves no purpose other than bringing you false securing that all is okay. There is some benefit. If you are sure that there is no sound of life in your hive, you can open it and verify by looking for 30 seconds between the comb. If the colony has perished it is best to shake out the dead cluster as soon as you can to prevent further decay inside on the combs. Just remember if you don’t hear anything it may speak more to your hearing than of your bees. Be careful as bees sting in the winter too.
7. KEEP THE ENTRANCE CLEARED
Snow and ice can pile up on the hive blocking the entrance at the bottom. Also, bees die of natural causes all winter and begin to accumulate on the bottom board, blocking the entrance.
Keep an eye out on your hive this winter.
What clues to hive strength do you look for in the winter?
http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-keep-a-beehive-in-the-fall.html, https://brookfieldfarmhoney.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/checking-hives-in-the-winter/, http://www.basicbeekeeping.blogspot.hr/2013/11/lesson-145-7-ways-to-check-on-your-hive.html