Wintering Honey Bees

First, ensure that the bees have enough honey stores to get through the winter, generally considered to be 60-90 lbs of capped honey (one deep or two mediums of wall-to-wall capped honey) in this area for a typical sized colony in standard equipment; if your hives are still light in mid-September, feed them with 2:1 syrup (up until mid-October) to get them up to that weight.  Mouse guards need to go on by early September.

Wrapping hives with black tar paper can help, but is not absolutely necessary (it’s also not a detriment); as someone said, it provides solar gain in the early spring, but has negligible insulation value.  A wind break can also help, but is not necessary; a friend of mine uses sections of stockade fence that he bought at Home Depot; my hives are on the south side of a stand of red cedar trees, which provide a natural wind break.

Ventilation is key if you are using standard Langstroth equipment. It doesn’t have to be a lot – the standard notch in an inner cover is enough, even with a solid bottom board and a small lower entrance.  Top insulation is critical, between the inner cover and the outer cover; otherwise the moisture in the air in the hive will condense inside the top, drip down on the bees and kill them; the ideal insulation is rigid foam insulation (1″ or 2″ thick) cut to the size of an inner cover; Homasote does not do the job.  I alternatively use quilt boards, but they are a bit more complicated. The foam insulation and the notched inner cover accomplish; Michael Palmer, a highly respected commercial beekeeper in northern Vermont, demonstrates this set-up on YouTube in Keeping Bees in Frozen North America starting at about 54:40, though the entire presentation is worth watching.

Finally, I don’t want to reignite the debate about , but for anyone who might care, if you focus on the above steps and your colonies either abscond by late fall or don’t make it through the winter, you almost certainly will have lost them due to varroa and the viruses they vector. Randy Oliver describes this issue in Understanding Colony Buildup And Decline: Part 1 – Varroa and Late Season Collapse, which was published in the American Bee Journal. Monitor mites using an alcohol wash and consider your treatment options if the count is more than 3% at this time of year.


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Radicalize the Hive by Angela Roell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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