One of a Beekeeper’s main responsibilities at the end of the honey season is to prepare for winter. This is commonly overlooked by newbees after the excitement of the flow season and the joyful labor of extracting honey. If you want to be a successful beekeeper, Wintering your hives is critical to colony health and longevity.
First and foremost in preparing for winter is mite treatment. Varroa destructor is more than just an annoying pest to our lovely ladies. This parasite is a vector that introduces illnesses to a hive that will deteriorate overall health. The most notable, and possibly most offensive, contribution the mite introduces to the hive is the disruption of the honey bee’s ability to produce the hormone vitellogenin. This hormone allows the bee to get ‘fat’ and live for the wintertime requirement of six months rather than the springtime requirement of six weeks. Ultimately, it does not matter how much honey and pollen they have stored for sustenance throughout the winter — if the colony has an abundance of mites, they will not survive. If you have yet to treat your hive, DO IT NOW!
Remember to monitor your mite count on a regular basis, as this not only gives you a reading of how your hive is doing, but also lets you know how effective your treatment choice is.
For warmer weather applications, GloryBee® offers Apiguard®, as well as Api Life Var®, both of which are Thymol based products. For more cooperative treatment temperature ranges, a great go-to may be the formic acid based Mite Away® Quick Strips, which also treat for tracheal mites. In an effort to make treatments available for all, GloryBee has recently dropped all Varroa treatments to wholesale pricing.
Keep in mind that it is highly recommended to rotate treatments to avoid resistance.
BEST TREATMENT PRACTICES
As a general rule, all honey supers must be removed prior to treatment. If replacing supers to provide winter sustenance, provide a general allowance of two weeks post-treatment before doing so — unless otherwise specified on the treatment instruction label. Be aware that storing honey supers for any extended amount of time will require treatment for wax moths. The most reliable strategy is to freeze the frames for 48-72 hours prior to storage in sealed plastic bags.
Resources for treatment options:
When heading into winter, we recommend six to eight frames of bees at minimum upon inspection. This is ideally coupled with 50-60 pounds of capped honey (This ends up working out to approximately two to three frames on each side of the brood, along with a full honey super). Less than this likely means you are in for a bit of work and decision making. A beekeeping truism is that “It is better to take your losses in the winter, than in the spring.” The reason for this is that a small cluster cannot adequately maintain stable brood temperatures (approximately 92° F) to continue the cycle of replacement of workers that are lost due to rapid temperature drop, disease or simple end of lifespan. If you are questioning whether or not your hive will last the winter, even with substantial feeding, it is worth seriously considering combining with a stronger hive. Be judicious in your efforts, as any manipulation of this extent late in the fall has its caveats.
Resources for helping you build Hive Strength:
Randy Oliver's Scientific Beekeeping
The Beekeeper’s Handbook- Chapter 11: Special Management Problems (Newspaper Method)
Beekeeping for Dummies- Chapter 18: TWO HIVES FROM ONE section (Newspaper Method)
Click here to read part 2 where discuss winter feed and supplements.