Midnite Bee-Beekeeper's: Article September 1999
PREPARATIONS FOR WINTER
PREPARATIONS FOR WINTER
I don't like things left until the last minute, particularly when you positively
know that cold weather is surely coming and we might have frost in October and
surely in November. Maybe you have someone to put up your storm windows, add
antifreeze to your boat engine or your car, get your boots, gloves, scarfs,sleds,
and skiis down from the attic, cook your Thanksgiving turkey, and do your Christmas
shopping; but I will bet that you have to prepare your bee colonies for the
winter all by yourself! Hence, let me help you by telling you WHAT I do and
give you the REASONS why I do it.
STORES: In our Maryland weather, I like
to have 70 pounds of honey on the colony before November 1st. . If we have a
long winter of continuous cold and very few days of temperatures over 50 degrees,
70 pounds of honey is more than enough to last until the spring nectar flow.
However, if we have one of these "warm" winters where the tempera ture goes
up and down like a yo-yo and there are quite a few days that the temperature
goes over 50 degrees or even 60 or 70, this is very stressful on the bees and
they break cluster and have to re-cluster, even start early brood rearing, go
out on cleansing flights, fly long distances hunting nectar or pollen for brood
rearing, and all this activity really uses of 70 pounds of honey rapidly, even
requiring additional feeding in late winter. Many beekeepers depend on the fall
flow of goldenrod and/or aster honey for winter stores.
However, it is not unusual that these two floral sources don't yield nectar
some years, but this honey crystallizes rather quickly which makes it poor quality
for winter stores. I much prefer feeding heavy (2:1 ) sugar syrup for winter
stores because it will remain liquid and the absence of certain minerals found
in the fall honeys lessen the chance of dysentery with the bees. What could
be worse than loose bowels when it is too cold to go outside for a cleansing
flight? Heavy (2:1 ) sugar syrup is 10 pounds of granulated sugar dissolved
in 5 pints of BOILING water (and that water has to be really boiling to dissolve
the sugar (not just hot water, but 212 degree BOILING water).
I cheat a little bit just to make the job slightly easier by dissolving 15
pounds sugar (3 five pound bags) in 1gallon of BOILING WATER. (1 gallon = 8
pints = 8 pounds of water). DON'T EVER FEED YOUR BEES ANY HONEY EXCEPT YOUR
OWN HONEY, because it might be filled with American foul Brood spores! (Most
commercial honey is loaded with AFB bacteria, because the bees are normally
treated with Terramycin which just hides the AFB symptoms, but does not CURE
AFB. That is why I hate Terramycin and refuse to use it.)
How much is 70 pounds of Honey? Depending on the thickness of the comb, a
deep frame holds about 6 pounds of honey, so your colony needs about 12 deep
frames of honey to equal 72 pounds. If you keep your bees in all Illinois boxes
(with 6 1/4" frames) like I do, each frame holds about 4 pounds of honey, so
you need about 18 frames to make 72 pounds of honey.
Let me mention something rarely mentioned. CLUSTERED bees move UP, but have
difficulty spreading sideways. Hence, it is far wiser to have all FULL frames
of honey stored near the center of the hive, like frames 3,4,5,6,7,&8 of each
box, while frames 1,2,9,&10 of each box are empty or partially filled.
Another fact: a colony of 2 deep bodies ready for winter should have a gross
weight of about 130 pounds, whereas a colony of 3 Illinois boxes ready for winter
should have a gross weight of about 145 pounds. Don't wait for cold weather
when the bees can NOT cure or properly distribute their stores in the colony
space. If you are going to use 2:1 sugar syrup, start feeding in the warmth
of September, so the bees can handle it properly!
TREATMENTS: I assume that you have followed
my advice and installed 50 grams of MENTHOL in the brood chamber between August
15th and August 31st. As I have clearly stated, installation AFTER August is
usually NOT EFFECTIVE, because the temperature is not warm enough to convert
the solid menthol into a gas (vapor) that the bees breathe to kill the microscopic
tracheal mites in their lungs. If you find your colony dead in late December
or January, but the hive still has plenty of honey, there is a 90% chance that
your bees died of tracheal mite infestation; and you will remember in future
years to install menthol in August to kill the mites. Although September is
very, very late to start treating with grease patties in place of menthol, because
the cost is so small, you might try.
Just make a "big hamburger" pattie from 2 parts of granulated sugar mixed withl
part of Crisco shortening and place it on the frame top bars of the bottom hive
body, and replace it as soon as it is gone, maybe in October or November. The
successful use of grease patties in place of menthol requires their presence
in the colony 365 days of the year, even during your nectar flows. Their use
is quite labor intensive; but Dr. Diana Sammataro Ph.D. thesis showed that continuous
use of plain grease patties prevented the extensive breeding of the tracheal
mite (but not kill it) so that a colony could survive and function, although
not at full strength.
Too many beekeepers ASSUME their bees are free of tracheal mites, because they
are microscopic and can not be seen; and hence their bees die. Tracheal mites
are still out there from Maine to California, so kill them with menthol. Varroa
mites have now been seen by almost everyone (ugly, aren't they); but not everyone
has accepted the best TIME or TIMES to treat for them.
Worse than that, unfortunately, there are some lazy, know-it-all, hard-headed,
so called "experts" that OVER TREAT with Apistan strips by using too many, or
particularly, leaving them in the colony TOO LONG, which is longer than 42 days
(6 weeks). As a result, some mites have become resistant to fluvalinate, the
active chemical in a Apistan strip, and the strips no longer are effective and
the bees die.
It is my contention that this beeHAVER (proof he is not a beeKEEPER) killed
his bees by not following directions on the label, or what scientists like me
have explained ad nauseum. I'll do it again: Varroa mites are MOST active and
can produce new mites faster than bees can be produced during the heavy brood
rearing time of a colony. Contrary to this, since varroa mite eggs are layed
in the late stages of bee larva development and uses this bee larva as food
to develop into an adult varroa mite, the most effective time to kill varroa
mites so they can't reproduce is when there is no bee larva to serve as their
In Maryland, generally the queen is "taking a break", slowing down her egg
laying in October and curtailing all egg laying for about 6 weeks from November
15th to about January 1 st. Hence, THIS IS THE BEST TIME TO GET THE MAXIMUM
KILL OF VARROA MITES. Therefore, put 4 strips of Apistan (2 in each brood chamber
hive body) in your colony on October 1st and REMOVE them after 6 weeks (Nov
12). If it is below 50 degrees on November 12th, the bees are clustered, so
wait a few days until it warms and the bees break cluster so it is easy to remove
the strips. If you are one of those who can't take time off from work and only
do bee work on weekends, perhaps you should not have bees, but you MUST remove
those strips even if you have to break the cluster.
Not following these directions is UNFAIR to the beekeepers who are acting correctly,
because you might be creating resistant mites that can destroy my bees or other
duty bound beekeepers. I have been using this treatment of placing my strips
in my colonies on October 1st for over 10 years in all of my 100+ colonies in
4 counties and two states, rarely having to ever make any 2nd treatment, and
have never lost a colony to varroa mites, so I know that a single 6 week long
treatment beginning October 1st and ending about November 12th works very well.
How do I average 132 pounds of honey per colony each year and you don't? Are
your bees slightly sick with an upset stomach or loose bowels? How well can
you work if you suffer an intestinal upset? Bee researchers and scientists estimate
that about 60% of all the hived bees in the country have NOSEMA disease, a gut
infection that often appears in the spring after a winter confinement. Although
this disease rarely kills a colony, it surely weakens it and shortens the already
short 42 day life expectancy of the worker bee. Just one chemical, fumidil,
has been found effective for prevention and control of nosema disease. This
is packaged under the name Fumidil-B, and the suggested dose is to feed 2 gallons
of 2:1 heavy sugar syrup containing 2 rounded teaspoons of Fumidil-B in the
I like to start this feeding anytime after October 1st so the bees will store
it away for winter feed and hence get the benefit of being treated almost every
day during the winter confinement as they eat this food. It costs about $2.00
per colony per year, and if that keeps my bees from feeling sick so they can
collect 132 pounds of honey each spring, then that $2.00 expense turns into
many extra dollars of honey receipts.
WEATHER: Forget you anthropomorphic thinking
and forget trying to warm a bee hive like you warm your house. Bees have been
doing fine when man lived in caves. Your major concerns are WIND and DAMPNESS.
Your hives should not be subject to the prevailing northwest winds that also
bring rain and snow. If they are not already shielded by some natural barrier,
make a temporary artificial one with snow fence or something to break down the
wind force. Surely, you have entered a long closed up house like a beach house
and it felt damp, cold, and dreary; and you remedied that by throwing open the
doors and windows and let it "air out".
Provide the SAME THING for your bees which are cluster confined in the winter,
by providing an UPPER ENTRANCE with a slot in the front edge of the inner cover.
Warm air rises and the bee's breath is both warm and damp with moisture, just
like yours, so an upper entrance allows hive ventilation letting this damp air
escape the colony to outside; and the bees keep warm by clustering rather than
having their whole hive interior warm. I do not believe in constricting the
bottom board entrance with an entrance reducer or turning the bottom board over,
because I think good ventilation is far more important that reducing entrance
After all, feral bees living in a hollow tree don't change their entrance space
when winter arises. One item often forgotten is to make sure the colony tilts
slightly forward, so that rain water does not run in the front door and puddle
on the floor.
MICE: In cold weather, what place could
be nicer than a nice quiet, dry, wind-free, secure home than a beehive for a
field mouse? Further, if the mouse is pregnant, surely she will make her nursery
within the protection of hollowed out brood frame. Mice have sharp teeth and
can gnaw away wood to enlarge the open space of your wooden entrance reducer
to let mice in.
I go to the hardware store and buy 1/2" hardware cloth (rat wire), cut a piece
to about 14 3/4" long and 2" high and staple it with 4 staples to the hive
front over the entrance. This allows plenty of space for bees to enter and exit,
it breaks up strong wind, and keeps mice out of the colony. These should be
put on in October before "mother mouse" starts looking for a nice dry wind-free
QUEEN EXCLUDERS, BEE ESCAPES, "stupid" BOARDMAN FEEDERS,
and other add-ons: None of these should be on a hive during the winter, particularly
the queen excluder (that is why mine,are painted RED) unless you want a dead
queen in.late winter as the cluster has move up to get more honey leaving thequeen
on the wrong side of the excluder. Boardman feeders are absolutely useless in
the winter, because bees cannot leave the warm cluster and walk "downstairs"
to get some sugar syrup. Lastly, remove all the weeds, trim the grass, make
it look like a well managed apiary, and don't forget to put a brick on the top
of each colony to keep a strong wind from blowing their "hat" away.
Now go and watch football on TV.
FEEDING METHODS & SAFEGUARDS Basically
there are five different feeding systems known and I will give my opinion of
all of them:
I ) Entrance Feeder (Boardman Feeder): Throw it away! It invites robbing,
and bees cannot get to it when it is chilly.
2) Division Board Feeder: I refuse to use them because they drown a lot of
bees, they occupy the space of a good brood frame, and mainly, the hive has
to be opened to the weather to refill or to inspect, and the bees can NOT get
to it if it is real cold.
3) Hive Top Feeder: A fine feeder in warm weather, but bees can NOT get to
it when weather is cold.
4) Baggies: These are ziplock, sandwich bags filled with sugar syrup placed
on the tops of brood frames with knife slits in them for bees to feed. Again,
you have to open the hive in the cold to add more, and the possible breakage
and flooding scares me.
5) A gallon glass or metal jar with about 4 tiny frame nail holes punched through
the lid inverted over the inner cover hole, and that enclosed by an empty deep
body is my choice of feeding technique. If bees need a tremendous amount of
feed in a hurry, remove the inner cover and invert 4 of these jars right on
top of the frames.