In part two of our continuing series on wintering your hives, we discussed winter feeding and supplement use. In part three, our final part, we’ll be concluding with best practices for dealing with moisture, winter winds and colony losses.
In a hive, adequate ventilation is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. This can be accomplished with the use of a moisture box made from 2” supers, a hole saw, hardware cloth or industrial mesh, canvas and wood chips or rags. This very useful (particularly in the PNW), but wildly underutilized piece of equipment can easily be assembled in no time flat. This unit works wonders to reduce the moisture issues commonly experienced while wintering over hives. This, in essence, acts as a sort of attic on your hive which allows you to remove moisture that can chill the bees, while at the same time keeping as much heat in as possible. A suggestion for improvement upon this great unit might be to use some industrial mesh to avoid moisture absorbing into the hardware cloth, which, depending on the severity of the moisture problem, may defeat the purpose of the unit. Another strategy for those more inclined to take a serious shortcut might be to attach an excluder to a comb super and swap out your cedar chips for old rags you can wash, dry and replace. Be sure to check your moisture box every couple weeks or so based on the moisture tendencies in your area to remove moisture and replace your dry absorption material.
Late fall is a great time to evaluate possible seasonal weather changes that occur in your area and determine how they might affect your hive. If winds tend to be harsher this time of year at your hive site, consider making a break for protection. Common materials used are hay or straw bales arranged in a U-shape placed behind the hive, creating a wind breaking ‘hug’ for your hive. Some beekeepers go as far as creating a temporary shelter for their hives, but something as simple as putting a piece of plywood on top of the cover that extends past the edges of the telescoping top can be beneficial in keeping rain out. Be sure to protect the entrance from piercing winds, but do not constrict ventilation. The aim is only to provide protection. Mouse guards are also wise this time of year as small critters are also looking for a warm place to winter over and the 93°- 95° F temperature range of a hive makes this a nook nearly impossible to resist.
There are assorted reasons that bees might die in the winter, or seem to winter over well, only to then limp along come full spring, or even end up absconding. Some reasons for these disappointing frustrations are as follows:
- Low Population Numbers
- Nosema Disease
Bee Informed has a great blog post about winter losses and the LCBA (Lane County Beekeepers Association) has a winter loss report that may also give some insight.
Overall, a beekeeper’s job is to support the bees in doing what they do, when they need to do it. The keeper aims to make the lives of the bees easier by grooming their environment to be the most beneficial for them in the present as well as the future. There are endless ways to accomplish this goal, forever improved upon with ingenuity as we learn more about honey bee biology, as well as the biology of her enemies, along with what we learn of our ever changing environment. The best chance a beekeeper has at success is having an ever present thirst for knowledge. The only constant is that things will change, so our best advice is to be prepared to adapt.