Winterizing the hives

There is a saying in beekeeping:
If you ask five beekeepers a question you will get seven different answers. Ask about winterization tactics and you will get you lots of opinionated answers.

Beekeeping is both art and a science. It is a gamble and your luck may be very different than a beekeeper two miles from you who keeps bees the same way you do.

If anyone ever tells you that it is easy, know that they are a liar.

If you’ve heard anything about bees, you have heard that they are dying. Their disappearance is a serious problem, as domesticated honeybees are responsible for pollinating approximately 80 percent of all fruit, vegetable, and seed crops in the United States. There are multiple threats to beehives: pesticides, stress, poor diet, infestation, disease, murder hornets and mismanagement all contribute to the demise of bees.

With the threats bees face, it may not be ideal for hives to be domesticated in the first place. There are feral bee colonies throughout the country that are able to survive perfectly well on their own, even though many began as domesticated hives, like the ones I have.

But here I am, facing an oncoming winter with six hives. Six hives that I want to survive. Last year I went into winter with seven. I did not buy any bees this year. I combined two hives a couple of weeks ago as one was small and appeared to be queenless and the other was just small. That hive appears to be doing very well now.

But back to the ugly word —
Winter is harsh on bees. If it is cold out, they don’t go out forage. If it happens to be a warm day, there is little to feast on anyway.

In the past I have tried a couple of different overwintering techniques.
—I have stacked bales of straw around the hives to create a wind break.
—I have wrapped them in the rolled pink insulation and then wrapped them in roofing felt.
—I have concocted a warming tray, by sandwiching a heating pad between two cookie sheets that I placed under the hives and only turned on during the coldest nights.
—I took the cookie sheets and then sandwiched an electric pipe tape that would kick on if the the temps fit into the freezing zone.
—I wrapped a hive with electrical pipe tape.
All my winter endeavors have been hit or miss; each with their own downfalls.

I went to a winterization workshop last year. It made so much sense. Genius really.
And of course he made it seem easy. I did it last year and although it wasn’t easy, all the hives survived.

So this is my winterization plan again for this year.

6mm black vinyl/plastic film
2 inch thick rigid foam insulation (which provides for R10 insulation)
Some electrical tape
And shipping plastic.

I had cut the rigid foam to each hives specific height. I have a mix of hive boxes, some hives are a deep box and two medium boxes, some are just a deep, some are three mediums, so the foam was cut to that particular hive’s height. I saved the foam from last year and I will fit them to the hives I have this year.

The foam encases the hives, then the black plastic is wrapped around the rigid foam. Rigid foam is sensitive to UV light and will degrade, so it needs to be covered or painted. And who has time to paint…

Then the plastic Saran Wrap shipping tape secures the black plastic —hopefully through, wind and rain, sleet and snow.

The last portion of the project was to take the inner cover and basically remake it. The inner cover has a middle hole. Unfortunately that middle hole is directly over where most of the brood (baby bees) and the hive conglomerates to keep warm. I have fed liquid sugar water through that hole for the previous four years.
But temperature changes/barometric changes can force the liquid out which dampens the brood and bees are cold and wet in freezing temps and bees get killed.
So the instructor said to move the hole—genius! So I layered a thin sheet of plywood called luan—over the hole, drilled a new hole to the back corner, and screened it in so bees can’t get into the top box. I then cut two layers of rigid foam to fit the top box, and cut a circular area for a quart jar of sugar water can be nestled—surrounded by insulation with the bees keeping it warm with their movement in the hive.

If I have enough rigid foam I may make another layer to fit inside the box over the quart jar which would make it an R30 roof. Pretty cozy.

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