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Getting Hives Ready for Winter!

Anyone who has followed my travails since last October will remember that I learned a valuable lesson about the meaning of ‘Winter’ to beekeepers. Last year, several folks had given me advice of things to do in advance of Winter. Now, being a farmer and a hunter, Winter for me starts right around Christmas. The shortest day of the year usually hits around then sometime and is considered, by most people at least, to be the start of Winter. Here in Richmond, Virginia, we rarely get any significant snow (well, rarely get it period) or any real stretch of freezing weather before that day comes.

But, this is not what a beekeeper means when he says ‘be sure to get your hives ready before Winter’. Winter to the beekeeper is really what we refer to as the first hard frost. In my area, this averages around October 15, well in advance of the previously mentioned day in December! Needless to say, I was behind the eight ball last year (I didn’t start Winterizing until November, when I discovered this misunderstanding!) Well, this year I am a bit wiser (not much, but a bit), so my Bee Hive Winterzations started this weekend.

Yesterday, I was able to Winterize 5 hives and hope to get another 5 or 6 done today. So far, so good. My goal in this process involves six major points (and one optional point):

  1. Make sure the hive is not honey/nectar-bound. This basically means that I do not want to find honey/nectar stuffed in most of the brood cells. The queen is now laying the eggs for the workers that will see her through much of the Winter. I want those cells open. I have never had this problem, but have heard it is a real risk with hives that you are still feeding (I only feed young hives, so I do not have much risk here). You should move an empty frame of drawn foundation to the center of the brood nest if you discover a honey bound situation at this time.
  2. Find the queen or recent evidence of her (eggs) in the lower brood chamber. If you find them elsewhere, either move those frames to the lower deep or move the whole daggone box to the lower position (this latter strategy might be necessary if  a lot of capped brood is up with the frame of eggs.)
  3. Confirm that honey stores are stocked to either side and above the brood nest. Move capped frames to these positions if they are not.
  4. Put the entrance reducer in place, to help with defense and keeping the mice out.
  5. Record how much honey stores they have. I make a journal entry like this : 0/2/8 Medium, 0/2/3 Deep. This tells me that the hive has 2 partially capped Medium frames, 8 fully capped Medium frames, 2 partially capped Deep frames and 3 fully capped Deep frames. This way, I know which hives to look at first when January comes around (which is the next time that I will pop most of these hives open again.) It also tells me who is strong in stores (I have a couple of hives with two full Mediums, or a full Medium and two full shallows), in case I need to borrow some food for a struggling hive.
  6. Make sure I have a vent up top. I put a stick between the inner cover and outer cover, propping it up about a half inch or so.
  7. [optional] Cover the bottom of your screened bottom boards. I did this last year, but I know of a fellow to the north of me that keeps them open all year long. So, who knows what the best strategy is. This is one thing that I have not done yet, but may do in November, after the elections (when I can use election signs for the covers!)

I was very encouraged by all of my inspections. Lots of honey and lots of capped brood. Found either queens or eggs in all of them and saw a lot of activity at the landing boards (bringing in both pollen and nectar.) Things look good so far, but more hives are on the agenda for today. I now know to expect the unexpectable (is that even a word?)…

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