Winter Planning for a Healthy Bee Population in Spring

This is the beginning of my second year of Beekeeping.  I am preparing to overwinter my bees this year, and have been forced to start early due to an unexpected cold snap. Bummer!

I feel a little shorted here. I was planning for a nice Fall season with temperatures going down in a nice sweater weather and bonfire kind of fashion. I don't know why I anticipated such a normal and predictable season, because Gaia, Mother Nature herself, dealt a different deck of cards. Just like the unpredictability of the Honeybee, so is the weather.

No nice Fall season this year. Not even a teaser. We had a few days of Fall and BOOM! Twenty seven degree mornings already.  I'm not complaining, I was caught a little off guard, which interrupted my beekeeping schedule a little. I wanted more time with them before they hunkered down for Winter's chill. I will be overwintering early, and waiting impatiently.  Patience is a trait I am working on.  My Queen along with her new maidens are great assets to this practice in patience. In the meantime I will take the opportunity to plan for Spring, loosely of course, and explore the lessons I learned this year. In the meantime, I have taken the steps to get the hives fed, both sugar syrup and pollen.

There are so many schools of thought out there regarding overwintering practices; I was a little overwhelmed this year so to be honest.  So I'm winging it! The principles are the same, and in place, but the rest I have to navigate using my knowledge of my landscape and weather.

Planning for Winter seems daunting at times.  If you anticipate every weather related possibility for your demographic area, you should feel fairly at ease until temperatures rise again bringing out a brand new colony of Honeybees. A new season of pollen, nectar and honey will be your reward; not to mention the fulfillment of advocating the pollinators.

I myself am hopeful. I have studied, talked to experienced beekeepers, and organized my equipment. My feeders are ready to go. Nature is ready too. The flowers have turned brown. The trees have begun to lose their leaves. The morning is greeted with early frost. It's time so here I go.

As a novice Beekeeper all I can say is check off your list, and hope for the best. If you treated for mites, and let the bees make enough honey, you should be set for Winter. Yes, there are other actions to take, but these two are the most critical to your colony's survival. You want to have all your winter  materials ready, and should be ensuring the bees have enough honey; or are being supplemented to make enough for winter.

This week I am putting on my mouse guards, insulating the top inner cover of the hive, and making moisture quilts. I will be pulling the sugar syrup from the hives once temperatures stay below 50 degrees.

Mice are famous for sneaking in to the bottom of the hive and using it for warmth. they will also feed off of the hive and destroy the wax on the frames. The bees have no resources to share with the mice. Using Mouse guards will block the entrance keeping the critters away.

Keeping the bees dry during winter is a huge challenge in the Pacific Northwest. The honeybees fan the inside of the hive to generate heat in a cluster creating condensation. Our weather is soggy. Moisture quilts and other tools are used by many to keep the moisture off of the bees.  If too much condensation occurs, it will virtually rain on the bees and kill them. I will be using moisture quilts to protect my hives.

To make my moisture quilts I used a shallow super which is the same compartment you would have your honey frames in during nectar flow.  I used hardware cloth and purchased wood shavings.  I stapled the hardware cloth to the bottom of my shallow super and poured my shavings inside to create a nice dry environment for the bees. I will check my shavings for excess moisture every couple of weeks and keep them dry. Shavings are great as long as you don't let them get too wet and moldy.

I will also be wrapping my hives this year along with setting some straw bales below them to minimize the amount of draft below the bench where they are set. This is not necessary here in the Pacific Northwest.  I live on the top of a ridge with prevailing winds coming up from the river.  This necessitates extra protection from those wet cold temperatures rolling up the hillside to my colonies.
If your bees are in a location where there is a windbreak you shouldn't have to wrap you hives.

I do have one hive that I am a little worried about due to it's very late start. This hive couldn't keep a Queen for some strange reason.  I had to put a frame with a queen cell in there to let her hatch and be accepted by the bees. Although successful she got a late start. That particular hive's honey production took a hit. Because they are a little behind a 3:1 ratio of sugar syrup will be fed to them, allowing them the opportunity to fill their honey frames before it gets too cold. This winter they will be getting dry sugar giving them a fighting chance.

The other two hives are fantastic and abundant with honey. I look forward to greeting them come Springtime. This years honey was different from last years. Due to purchasing my hives later in the season, the bees missed out on the Maple flow. My honey was different, but still quite delicious.  I will finish overwintering them and plan for Spring.  I want them to have the best opportunity for success.  I will plan my gardens, wildflowers and the trees I have researched.

I am increasing my flower gardens by around 40% next Spring, and will be planting some Bee friendly trees. I really like the Linden tree. The bees love it, so a few of those will be part of my landscaping plan. I read how this particular tree can also attract swarms!  This got me excited to catch a feral colony.  I haven't had any success catching a colony with my swarm traps, but I am determined to get one in 2020!

Of course the honey will change in flavor based on the new flowers and trees, which I find to be adventurous and exciting. Having these hives from the beginning of Spring will provide more than one nectar flow, creating a variety of honey flavors throughout the season. What an adventure for the taste buds. I can't wait!

While my ladies are cozy and warm inside, I will be reflecting on my lessons from the honeybees this year; and will naturally share them with you. They have so much to teach us.  Not to mention so much to give us. The learning never stops. We still have a lot to talk about.

I want the world to embrace their gifts to our lives and our futures. I owe them that much!


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