Wow! It was a long nice summer. But Bam!!  Winter is just around the corner.   If you are like me, you have put off doing many things that need to be done before winter sets in, and time is running out.  “But Dennis” you say “the weather is still so nice, surely there is plenty of time to take care of what needs to be done.” Several people that I talked to at the September COBKA meeting had that deer in the headlights look. “The bees are just booming in my boxes, what do I do now?”

   It is getting pretty late to do everything that may need to be done.  In four or less weeks it could be snowing.  (Oops, it snowed on September 29th ) If you are still planning on treating your hives for mites or feeding them sugar water to build up adequate winter stores, there is still some time but not much. Better get to it, time’s a wastin.  The health and strength of the hive going into winter is very important to it’s survival through the winter and it’s strength in the spring.

            In October winterizing a hive needs to be addressed.  In central Oregon it’s cold in the winter. Central Oregon has a zone 6 classification for gardening. That means it can get down to 0 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit “average annual extreme minimum temperature” (or lower) at least a few days or nights a winter.  If you are outside, that’s cold! (This is a good time to pause and contemplate a trip to Arizona this winter.)

            Most bee keepers in central Oregon winterize their hives in some fashion. We usually provide some kind of protection from the wind.  Hay bails stacked around the back and sides of the hive, taking care not to block the front entrance or the sun,  or a location where the hive is backed up near a south facing wall or a fence or a tree line can help.  I place my hives so they get sunshine as much of the day as possible during the winter, in a spot that is not very windy.

            Making sure the hive has a slight tilt to the front can prevent rain or snow melt from running into the hive.  

            I wrap my hives in tar paper around the end of October. This doesn’t provide much insulation, but does give some protection from wind and rain, and I think the black color absorbs some of the heat from the sun on  sunny days and transmits it to the cluster of bees inside.  I reduce the main entrance to about 3/8” x 4” and block screened bottom boards around the end of October too. This reduces air flow into the hive and also helps keep mice out.  This time of year mice are looking for a warm dry place with food available to spend the winter.  A bee hive with a wide open entrance is very attractive. The bees often don’t seem to be bothered enough to do anything about it. Maybe that’s because the mice use little space at first and they probably come and go when the bees aren’t active.  But by winter’s end the mice have made a real mess.  Making a big nest in a back corner, eating the wax and honey the bees need, ruining the comb, and generally fouling the hive.

            I used to use a small upper entrance notch in the inner cover about 3/8”X1-1/2” to help vent water vapor during the winter.  That approach has fallen out of favor with some beekeepers due to research into what causes water vapor from the bees breathing out moisture from honey they have eaten to condense inside the hive when too much cold air is allowed to enter the hive.  Many of my fellow beekeepers in central Oregon have gone to using some form of top insulation instead.  Usually a solid foam insulation layer under the lid or a blanket or burlap in an empty hive body above the inner cover.  This is supposed to reduce condensation of water vapor on the ceiling of the hive interior which can cause water to drip down on the winter cluster. (Think rain in your house falling from the ceiling.) The blanket or other insulating material can also help to absorb and remove some moisture if there is an opening in the inner cover.  I tried this last year but the winter (2018/2019) was colder than usual and had a long, deep snow event in February.  So, I’m not sure my unusually high hive losses were the fault of this experiment or extreme weather conditions, or the condition of the colonies going into winter.  I’ll try it again this year.   Experimenting with new techniques and keeping informed are all part of beekeeping.

Big thanks to Dennis Gallagher for writing this month's notes!

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