Old man winter is on his way, the frost is not yet on the pumpkin and I am hoping for some tips from those who have wintered hives up here.
What should those of us with first year hives be doing right now? And what should we expect through the winter?
Jessie? Paul? Kevin?
You should check for stores and feed 2:1 syrup if they are light. I have already started early feeding on my really light hives, but there is still a light nectar flow, so it is not too bad. Last year at this time they were robbing fools. Feed, Feed, Feed if they are light. Then I cook up candy bricks to place on their frame bars for November/December/January. Late February, the Maples and Willows should pop and get them some badly needed nectar.Winter here is not so much like Winters elsewhere, as the bees get a break about once a week even during the coldest part of Winter. The temp normally pops up above freezing every few days or so and allows them to move around and get some food. There was a Spring cold snap that got one of my queens when the temps dropped and they did not cluster fast enough. These can be a problem here in the Southern Mountains all the way into early May.
I aim for the equivalent of two boxes of brood/honey. Les Crowder recommends 12 bars for top bar hives. I have overwintered with as few as two frames of brood and 3 of food, however. Just have to be diligent about keeping them stocked. Any time the temp is above 40 you can open the lid and restock them. Any time the temp is above 65 you can pull frames if need be. I was out feeding them in the snow last year. Check them once a month at the height of Winter. Just a quick check - 10-20 seconds or so. This is why I prefer candy bricks. Just takes a few seconds to drop a new one in. Also, dry sugar is a PITA to clean out in Spring. I will be overwintering about six 40 frame horizontal langs, 6 standard langs (8 frame deeps), and a couple of nucs this year.
As far as prepping the hives, I mostly seal them from wind and sometimes place strips of roofing felt on the brood chambers to help them with solar heating. Wind breaks are a good idea, I use old pallets stood on end. and hooked together. I will be sealing off the screens in a week or so, and adding feeding shims or empty supers to the hives that need them.
Oh, don't worry about dead bees in the snow. It is mostly the old foragers from Summer dying off. Most of my wildish bees fly all the way down to 35 degrees, and try to forage in the snow. The fly out and see the snow, confusing it with the sky, and crash! Right into the snow bank. If you are really OCD and don't want dead bees in the snow you can shovel it I guess and mix dirt with the snow, but it really doesn't hurt them much in the long run.
Checkerboarding/DeMaree Swarm Control - those of you with Langs better start early. I did it too late last year (late February) and two of my hives swarmed.
By the way, talk is we will be getting a wet Winter this year with lot's of snow.
Well, Paul hit most of the high points. I do the same, basically; check for food and supplement where necessary...heavy syrup so they store and cure it quickly. I look for50-60 lbs for winter stores, but they didn't use nearly that much last winter. I'll also make sure I've got some candy cooked up, in case they need it, and make sure I've got some pollen supplement for them. I fed them some very late last winter, just before they started to forage and it really seemed to help them.
My boxes are heavy, so I'll checkerboard before I close them up for the cold months, and probably move the main brood chamber up one box if they don't do it themselves, and move the queens down. At this point, I'm trying to keep them at a point where I'll be able to split them early in the spring so the new splits get the benefit of the trees blooming.
When I pull honey for the last time this fall, I'll look for mites, moths, etc. (and I've had some...)and use something organic as a preventative measure. I've had luck with ApiGuard, which is a thymol-based gel. I'll probably treat with that in the fall, along with some mint and lemongrass and garlic, just for preventative measures. They seem to like that, especially the lemongrass oil. For those that medicate, it would be time for Fumigilin, tetracycline, etc., since it will cycle out before any more nectar flows.
It doesn't usually get so cold down here, so I have some more time to work them...they'll probably still be working in November if things are as normal. At least they were last year. December and January are generally the only winter we have here. I'll make sure my covers are insulated, and last winter I wrapped the hives in black landscaping cloth...but winter was so mild I don't think it was really necesary. I'll probably do it anyway, just in case.My boxes are mostly sheltered from the worst of the winds.
Oh, and I have screened bottom boards, so I'll make sure to seal those up before night temperatures drop too low.
I think the most important points are to check for food, make sure they have room to cluster, and remember that they will start preparing for spring swarms now, so if you have strong hives, look at managing that before closing them up for the winter.
Our coldest months up here seem to be November,December, and most of January - but we get snow all the way from October to May. I will probably move my weaker hives down into the desert where it is warmer for the coldest part of Winter, but I haven't really decided yet. I may not.