The weather warmed up from its recent hover around zero this weekend and seemed a fine time to finish up the beehive preparation for the long winter. Goals: 1) protect against moisture, 2) make sure there's enough to eat, 3) allow for ventilation. Sexy, huh?
Did you know that if you interviewed 100 beekeepers about how to tend hives you would get 400 different methods? It's true. Recently I spoke with a hearty Pennsylvania beekeeper who never wraps his hives. He says they can survive the cold. They regulate the temperature themselves by clustering together and moving about (and eating honey!). Ok. Fine. What he says they cannot control is moisture, food supply and ventilation. That's where the beekeeper comes in.
Partly to assist in mitigating the cold (despite Mr. Pennsylvania's assurances) and partly to keep out the moisture, I wrapped all surviving hives (11 of them) in a bee cozy (thick quilting material enclosed in heavy duty black plastic). The cozy is a sleeve that slides over each hive. You scrunch it down a bit so you can fit the cover back on. Our hives sit on a windy hill with plenty of weather and I feel better about having them wrapped. Inside each hive I installed a moisture board on top of the internal cover and just under the external cover. The board is like a chicken nugget; loosely pressed parts of wood pulp or cardboard standing at the ready to absorb any moisture that enters. Ok, not so much like a chicken nugget... but it absorbs moisture. That is the point.
Second, I purchased buckets of thick, sticky, caramel colored winter bee food that is rich in sugar, carbs and plant proteins. I scooped it out onto a cookie sheet and rolled it flat with a rolling pin. It looks like a sheet of thick gingerbread dough ready for the cookies to be cut out. I opened each hive, removed the internal cover and placed the sheet of food directly on top of the frames. Each of the hives had different levels of activity. In some no activity was visible. Hopefully the bees are deep inside the brood box (one level down). In other boxes, two in particular, hundreds of bees worked diligently toward the top of the box. Different queens give different orders. The two boxes with tons of bees on top will have to wait for their winter food. I did not want to smush them in order to install it.
Finally, at the bottom of each hive is an entrance. Air can get in there under the bee cozy. At the top, air can enter a bit between the bottom of the cover and the top of the cozy. I installed four shims in each hive to make a little space between the frames where the honey and winter food is and the inside cover, both to allow space for the food and to allow for some air flow.
All hatches battened. All systems go. I will install the remaining hives' winter food next weekend, hopefully. Then I will check each hive in January to make sure the food is still plentiful. And again each month after that until the spring springs. The key, according to Mr. Pennsylvania, is to make sure the bees have plenty of food particularly in March and April before the forage becomes abundant and after the temperatures hover around 50 degrees. Just so you know.
Snuggle up and think good thoughts in the bees' direction.
XOXO Farm Girl