First frost and fingers crossed: winterizing the hive

Sunlight sparkling on the bees...a bee-utiful sight.

Sunlight sparkling on the bees…a bee-utiful sight.

The temperature has dipped low enough to zap the basil, which I did not snatch in time.  So much for making pesto.  A  more pressing issue is getting the bees ready for winter.  Saturday was a delightful day with crisp sunny weather and crunchy leaves underfoot, but it was still warm enough for the bees to be out and about.  Mr. Beekeeper had three tasks in mind:

  • put sugar patties in each hive for food and for mite control
  • put bottom boards on the hives to reduce drafts
  • insulate the hives with tar paper to keep the bees from getting too cold

We have had a 50% success rate in getting bees through the winter.  One year they were too cold and would not leave the warmth of their cluster to eat honey elsewhere in the hive and so they starved to death.  Last year, they were unable to maintain critical mass to stay warm, due most likely to a mite infestation.

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Crisco and sugar. Bees eat the sugar. Crisco masks their scent so mites have trouble finding them.

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The wax paper helps keep the patties on the frames instead of falling in them.

The mason jar is the sugar water feeder.  Giving them sugar did not make them lazy...they were busy little bees but get to store their honey for winter.

The mason jar is the sugar water feeder. Giving them sugar did not make them lazy…they were busy little bees but get to store their honey for winter.

This year we replaced all four hives.  Due to a lengthy winter in Georgia, the bees did not arrive in Maryland until the first day of summer.  They missed the abundant spring blooming season, so Beekeeper Man has been feeding them sugar water all season long.  He also started them off with sugar patties.  Sugar patties are a simple mixture of Crisco and sugar.  The bees eat the sugar but, in the process, get Crisco on them.  This supposedly masks their scent so the mites can’t find them.  As we head into winter, the sugar patties are a better way to feed than glass jars of sugar water which would freeze.

Sliding the plywood in sure beats lifting the entire hive.

Sliding the plywood in sure beats lifting the entire hive.

To help the bees stay warm, Mr. Beekeeper slides a bottom board onto the bottom of the hive which is just open screen.  This minimizes cold air rushing in.  Bee Man also wraps tar paper (the kind used for roofing) around the hive and on the top lid.  We’ve had bees survive without the tar paper and we’ve lost them from pests with the tar paper.  If nothing else, it keeps a certain beekeeper’s worry level low.  He will still fret over his “girls” all winter, but at least I won’t be hearing him moan every time it snows, “I should have wrapped the hives.”

The black tar paper will help with solar heat in the cold winter.

The black tar paper will help with solar heat in the cold winter.

A primary but unlisted task when opening the hives is always to assess how the bees are doing and to enjoy them.

Opening one hive broke open some burr comb that was attached to the lid.  And it gave me a chance to peek at the bees on some honey.

Burr comb...the bees don't always keep their honeycombs in the frames.

Burr comb…the bees don’t always keep their honeycombs in the frames.

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Assassin bugGoing in the hive also means checking for pests.  One was found outside of a hive–an assassin bug.  Assassin bugs are considered a beneficial bug in the garden and they don’t thrive in numbers to make them a danger to the hive, but this hapless bee sure did not benefit from the bug at her doorstep.  The assassin bug inserts a paralyzing enzyme into the victim and then sucks the “juice” out of it.  The assassin bug normally hangs around flowering plants where nectar loving insects hang out.  With the first frost killing off the flowers but warm weather keeping the bugs alive, this guy was running out of places to hang out.

A more nefarious pest was found in the third hive–small hive beetles.  But that will require some research and another post.

Small hive beetles can ruin a colony.  We'll have to get on this.  Stay tuned.

Small hive beetles can ruin a colony. We’ll have to get on this. Stay tuned.

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3 thoughts on “First frost and fingers crossed: winterizing the hive

  1. Thanks, Emily. I liked that photo too. We have thought about the condensation issue…that hasn’t been a problem before. But duly noted. With the current set-up it is simple to slide the bottom board out if John decides to do so.

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  2. Lovely first photo.

    Over the last few years I have been putting insulation in the top but leaving the open mesh floor uncovered so that air can circulate around and hopefully condensation doesn’t build up. This seems to be working well.

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