Winter is coming…
We live in Michigan and the Farmer’s Almanac says we’re in for a doozy…The signs are all there. I have a few “superstition”/“wives tale” type clues that I swear by.
- The oaks are LOADED with acorns this year.
- We had a cool summer following a mild winter (so we’re due)
- The Wooly Bear caterpillars have a very narrow band of rust
- The maples started changing to red very early this season
So it’s time to start thinking about how to protect the hives from the northern weather to come. The hardest part about winter beekeeping in the north is that it is often too cold to open your hives for months on end. So one warm November afternoon you set the bees up with everything you can to get them through, and then wish them the best until spring.
Here are 9 things you can do this fall to provide your hive support during the cold winter.
- Replace screened bottom boards with solid bottom boards
The USDA published a study done in Iowa comparing the use of screen bottom boards vs. solid bottom boards in cold winter climates. The study found that in the hives with the screen board the population dropped by 20%
- Provide an additional feed source
We’re still having warm days here in Michigan, but the flowers are dying. This limits the bees natural food availability. To prevent them from tapping into their honey stores too early (thus having them run out of food in the winter) feed now to give extra support.
- Condensation is the winter killer
Even more-so than the cold. Research ways to reduce condensation in your hive; whether it’s Styrofoam, cedar chips or a vent hole. There are many methods, some of which I plan on covering in a future post.
- Install an entrance reducer
The bees won’t be coming and going as much as the weather cools, this smaller entrance hole blocks some of the weather (cold, wind, water) from getting to the bees.
- Set up a wind block
Stack straw bales in a U-shape around your hive blocking it from wind and snow drifts. A piece of metal sheet roofing or plywood works well for this too. You can stabilize it with t-post stakes.
- Implement Verroa mite prevention
If you’re new to beekeeping start researching ways to treat for Varroa mite prevention. Your hive is going to be (somewhat) sealed up for the winter. This gives any lingering Varroa mite the perfect opportunity to up the infestation without your intervention.
I plan to write a post next month on different natural treatments for Varroa mites. Including cedar chips, wintergreen oil, powder sugar dusting and more!
- Wrap your hive
Wrapping your hive with cardboard or tar paper can help block drafts and contain heat. Wrap on three sides excluding the entrance side.
Ventilation is extremely important in the winter months. As I said previously it allows condensation to escape, but it also prevents suffocation. In Michigan we can get feet of snow. This accumulation will block the hive entrance hole and seal off air circulation.
I recommend drilling a hole in your top box about ½ inch round in the center of the side of the box. This will provide extra ventilation and an extra entrance to the hive from the top.
- Research in-hive feeding methods
External feeders will freeze in the winter so it’s a good time to start preparing some internal solutions. Grease patties, fondant and even some commercially made feeders and methods work well.