Ensure your hive is in the best shape for winter

October 09, 2018

Ensure your hive is in the best shape for winter

It is early October and a few weeks since we removed the honey from our supers. It is now time to do what you can to ensure your hive will overwinter successfully and continue as a thriving colony next spring. Our video helps explain the process.

We haven’t discussed supplemental feeding of pollen patties or syrup, because this year (2018) we have  experienced a short, almost non-existent window between warm fall days and the onset of cold temperatures. This quick transition is a challenge, because you need 14 degrees or better in the daytime for bees to have an appetite to feed, bring it down into the hive and dehydrate it into honey form for use as winter feed.

So if your hive is underweight, you will have to think instead of a strategy called amalgamation. This is a process where you move bees or frames into the most promising hive to ensure a colony survives the winter. Or, if you have two underperforming hives, take the box with the most bees from one hive and set it on top of the box with the most bees in the other hive. Separate the two boxes with newspaper that has holes cut in it. This allows the bees to get used to each other and start to mingle. Make sure all frames in the two boxes are full of honey and-or bees with brood. Any surplus frames with honey should be kept until spring for use as the most efficient feeding method should your bees require it.

Our video shows our new hive established in the spring. We will reduce it from three to two boxes, then weigh the bottom two. The temperature was about two degrees and snowing lightly when this video was produced.

We see that the third or top box contains five frames of honey that we can use to reinforce other hives in the same yard. The second box is not completely full of honey, so one of the empty “end” frames can be removed and replaced with one of the fuller frames from the top box. Do this for any other empty frames before extracting your top-box honey. If you don’t have replacement frames with honey, just make sure the fuller frames are in the centre of the box, as that is where the bees will come up in the spring

Just for the purposes of the video, we opened up the lower box to show what the cluster looks like. You can see it is a very full hive.

You now have a two-box hive with a ventilator chamber on top, plus a lid and a mouse guard over the entry. The video shows how the hive can be placed on an electronic weight monitor that will record and transmit hive weight every hour. This shows how hives alternately consume and produce honey through the year, giving a great picture of hive health, pollen and nectar flows, and more. If there is one of these monitored hives in your area, you will be able to see the results online at Hiveworld.ca and draw some reliable conclusions as to how your own hive is doing. Hiveworld.ca plans to have these monitors installed throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Fraser Valley in the coming months.

It is also important to weigh your own hive with a simple luggage scale, as shown in the video. A hive that contains enough stores for winter survival should weigh about 125 pounds. Weigh one side and then the other, then add the two readings to get the total (this is easier than trying to get the entire hive off the ground for a reading).

At this point just before Thanksgiving, the hive is not wrapped. We have a very large cluster of bees, and a total weight that is far in excess of what would be required to take the hive through the worst winter conditions. The hive is coming to the end of the fall bee hatch and there may be brood in there, with the queen still laying, and these bees need the best chance of survival. If you wrap early, the temperature and condensation inside the hive may rise to dangerous levels, causing or exacerbating problems down the road. Understand that bees do not heat the inside of the hive, they only heat the inside of the cluster. Bees can handle the cold. They cannot handle moisture.

Our next video shows what a less promising colony looks like, and what to do about it.

We hope this information is useful to you, and welcome any comments or questions you may have. You will also find more information and all the equipment you need at Hiveworld.ca. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels for all the latest news and tips.  

 We're an Alberta-based supplier of everything required for successful beekeeping on the prairies in Western Canada. Whether you are a beginning hobbyist, interested in supplementing your business revenue, or a commercial operator, we've got the bees, the supplies, and the knowledge.

 We put education first - you need to know how a bee colony works to enjoy any level of success. We will answer your questions, show you how things are done, and later in 2018 will offer a variety of courses and hands-on demonstrations to make your beekeeping as rewarding as it is fascinating.

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