It's time to winterize the bees. Since no one has an estate in the south for us to ship them too, we will have to make do. Below, I summarize quickly the results of several conversations with beekeepers about giving your bees the best chance for surviving the winter.
First stop, mite treatments. If they haven't been treated already, it's time. Before it gets too cold. It's important to kill the mites now so the bees don't have to battle them all winter and don't start the spring with a debilitating infestation. We use a three week process of applying smoke from oxalic acid to hit the mites in every stage from gestation to maturity. You can also use mite strips.
To prepare the beehives once mite treatments have been done, here is a handy checklist:
Remove the supers to harvest your honey if you have not already. Doing this gives you your pot of gold, but also allows the bees to focus on filling up every nook and cranny with honey for themselves for the winter.
If you have been feeding your bees, it's time to switch to a more concentrated sugar solution. If you were using a 1:1 solution, double your sugar. The less water content you have, the less work the bees have to do to convert that syrup to honey.
Put in your reducer bar at the hive entrance turned to the smallest opening. This will allow for your bees to get outside as needed but will make it harder to predators to invade.
Make sure your inside cover and lids are in good shape. If not, you might want to replace them. It's a good idea for your cover to be able to keep out as much moisture as possible. Mine are covered in metal... but I do have a few that could use an upgrade. I also replaced some deteriorating inner covers.
Make some small shims -- one for each corner of the top of the hive, right on top of the top frames and under the internal cover -- that will provide a space for you to add some winter food. I had been recommended to make them "three fingers high" but I took a more conservative approach at 1 and a half fingers. This allows room for food and ventilation.
Add a store of winter food for the bees to eat once their own honey storage has been depleted. This can include a sugar board (YouTube videos and on-line recipes abound), fondant (yes, like in the Cake Boss) or winter bee food. I use Pro Winter Patties from Mann Lake. They are high in carbs and low in protein so that the bees are not encouraged to reproduce during their dormant months. You can use an ice cream scoop to load this stuff right on top of the top frames, followed by the inner cover (resting on the shims).
Add a moisture board on top of the inner cover. This will help to absorb any moisture that enters the hive from winter weather. Cover the moisture board with the telescoping external hive cover or lid.
Finally, insulate the outside of your hive to protect from weather or wind. I use the two-story Bee Cozy from Mann Lake, which contains a soft insulation encased in heavy duty black plastic. As you can see from the pictures above, some keepers don't insulate. The bees cuddle together and regulate the temperature themselves. Still, I feel better doing it.
That's it folks. Let me know if you have any questions. Later in the season, I will update you on some mid winter bee care!
XOXO Farm Girl