A Curious Beekeeper thinks some more about over wintering

Last fall I wrote about over wintering. A winter has passed, and while my success has improved, it is not perfect yet.

I’m no longer satisfied with a 40-50% survival rate. I want 90-100%.

Will that happen every year? No. But that won’t stop me from shooting for 100%.

The BIP survey arrived in the mail yesterday. Two copies. I guess they really want me to fill it out this year. Though the contributor part of me thinks they are wasting money by sending multiple solicitations.

What did I learn this winter?

That if my upper entrance is above my inner cover, I’d best not cover the inner cover hole with a patty.

Talk about a mess! The patty melts and runs everywhere. All that HFCS. (winter patties) And the bees die. Guess who has to clean it up?

I had mixed results with my Quilt boxes and poor results with Vivaldi Boards. I’ll try both again – I think the Vivaldi Boards will work fine with strong colonies.

I’ve re-read Bill Hesbach’s Bee Culture article “Winter Management” from the October 2016 issue. Bill is an EAS and U Montana Master Beekeeper.

Writes Hesbach: “There’s no question that ventilation is needed, but I think if we could refine our understanding of how much is needed and when, modify our boxes to direct the convective flows away from the cluster’s center, and increase insulation around the Winter cluster, we could help our bees live healthier, lessen the burden of Winter provisioning, and reduce Winter losses.”

I think I’m starting to understand.

In a Langstroth hive, insulation on top of the box is really necessary, on the sides of the box is helpful. Ventilation is necessary to remove some of the bee generated moisture, but how much is needed is open to debate.

Helping the cluster retain heat needs to be the goal as well as dealing with moisture.

What is not debatable is that the R value of the wood in our hives is about .84

There are lots of other issues to consider, quality and makeup of feed being one. I want honey to be the best over-wintering food, but given local conditions, I’m worrying more and more about it. Several successful beekeepers that I know in Maine routinely do not have their bees overwinter on fall honey.

The goal being to have live colonies of strong bees in the spring.

To do that Varroa parasitism needs to be low going into winter.

And the bees need enough food.

Some days I wish for the days of tar paper wraps, Homasote and candy boards. They seemed to work fine at the turn of the century.

Certainly our knowledge has increased. So to have the challenges. Though some things never change: like mice getting into hives through unprotected openings.

That I can do something about. The other stuff, I think I understand. Though some times my eyes glaze over.

Now lets talk about winter wraps that have been torn open soaking the enclosed insulation. Some things can’t be fixed with Duct tape. And while I’m off on this tangent, what nutritive need are the bees addressing when they eat my blue insulation?

I talk to my class this week about over-wintering. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.

Andrew DeweyComment