Late Winter 2018

Late Winter 2018

We survived the hurricane season with no damage, and heading into winter we focused on accomplishing several tasks.  First and foremost, we fed and fed our hives to get the hive weights up for winter.  Also, we also made some other changes to help with winter survival.

Changes to How We Winter Bees

Insulated Hives

One issue that hurt the bees last year was food and specifically food not being where the bees could access it late in the year.  When we inspected hives, some were out of food, but more had food at the edges and couldn’t get to it during the last cold spell.

To help reduce the need for food and to make food more accessible, we added 2” foil backed polystyrene insulation to all of the hives.  We made this a permanent change and used construction adhesive to attach the foam to the hive.  I believe this will help in two different ways.  First, the bees will not have to burn as much honey trying to stay warm.  Also, they will have more days where they can break the cluster and move supplies where they are needed. See the pictures below:

We also took spacers and insulated them with 1” foil backed polystyrene and then filled them with 10 lbs. of sugar brick.  To secure the sugar brick for handling, I drove in 2” screws on all four sides and then put the damp sugar in place.  After letting the sugar dry completely, the sugar became firmly secured.  See the pictures below:

Insulation installed and vent hole drilled

Foil backed insulation

Duct to hold the insulation in place

To prevent moisture buildup, I put an upper vent in the sugar board so that moist air has an escape.  This was probably not necessary since the sugar would absorb moisture, but better safe than sorry.

Vent and bee escape at the bottom

Single Deep Hives

One thing I think hurt the bees last winter had too large a space.  This year I am wintering over in single deep hives except for two hives that are double deeps.  One, because they had moved up and I didn’t have time to rearrange the hive due to cold weather.  The other was because they had the upper deep full of honey and so I let them keep their supplies.

I got the idea for wintering single deep hives from Paul Kelly’s videos.  He is a researcher at the University of Guelph in Canada and winters his hives over as single deeps.  If you can do that in Canada, I don’t see a reason for not being able to do so in North Carolina.

Different Bees

In the past, I raised Italian bees because they were readily available and I purchased queens and packages from local vendors.  At the state bee meeting this spring, one of the presenters made some comments that caught my attention. 

One was the bees from the south sold in packages are primarily bred to make lots of bees for sale.  This behavior is not necessarily good for the beekeeper.  Italian bees also tend to keep larger clusters and therefore use more honey than other varieties.

Another comment was on the need to use bees that winter well in our climate and buy from local breeders to improve the success with our bees. 

She was correct in talking about buying package bees.  I ordered two before the spring meeting, and when I installed them, both queens failed.  I was fortunate that I had also ordered some NUCs from up north, and was able to requeen the hives successfully.

My hives now have either a Buckfast or Carniolan queen, and I have been very pleased with temperament and brood buildup.  After treating for Varroa in the early fall, the hives went into winter with good populations and stores.  The lone exception was one of the splits I made in late September, and I just failed to make sure they had enough resources.  I moved that NUC in my greenhouse just inside a slit cut in the side of the greenhouse, and they are still alive.  I am hoping they survive.

The Results

While spring is still a long way off, I am very encouraged by what I have seen so far.  We weighed all of our hives except the NUC in the greenhouse on November 17th, and then we reweighed them on December 17th.  I was surprised and pleased to see that the average food consumption for the 31 hives was about 1.5 lbs per hive. 

The winter has not been exceptionally cold, but we have had cold spells where they didn’t fly for several days.  We have also had more than our share of wet and cloudy days.

In March or April, the final results will be evident, but for now, I believe that the changes we have made will contribute to much better survival rates and healthier bees in the spring.


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