By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
Particularly for new beekeepers, the winter preparation questions resurface every year.
#1… How much honey your bees will use during winter depends on winter forage sources. Leave less than a medium full of honey frames if your bees forage eucalyptus during winter. In our climate our bees forage almost every day through the winter. Keep notes. Adjust next year. Check your hive by lifting the back every week or so. If a hive feels too light, feed it.
#2… No we do not have to wrap our hives in insulation in this climate!!! Our worst of winter days and nights are like spring in a temperate climate.
#3… No! We never have to provide a heat source for our hives. Our bees “burn” honey to produce heat just by clumping together at night, and sometimes by vibrating their wing muscles without flapping their wings. As long as the hive isn’t drafty, and their cluster is big enough, and they have enough honey, they will keep warm. Respiration produces a convection current of warm, moist air in the hive. Water condenses onto cold surfaces in the hive… namely under the top cover and on the outside walls.
We’ve all read that cold water dripping onto bees is a very bad thing. What to do???
Beekeepers who need to feed their bees take advantage of the condensation under the top cover. The condensation drips onto Drivert Sugar poured on top of the inner cover. Drivert sugar dissolves without crystallizing, so the bees can use it up easily. (A spacer or shim is usually used to increase the space between the inner cover and the top cover to accommodate the pile of sugar)
Some beekeepers use “top feeders” in a similar manner. They pour the drivert sugar into the feeder troughs.
Beekeepers who don’t need to feed often put a dry material, like stalks of lavender, into the troughs of the top feeder to absorb the water. The feeder becomes an insulation layer.
Let’s review why that water condenses under the top cover… The temperature of the top cover is cooler than the dew-point of the moist air rising above the bee cluster. The top cover cools because heat radiates from the top cover or wind carries away the heat. Suppose we place an inch or two thick slab of Styrofoam™ on TOP of the top cover. The Styrofoam™ greatly reduces heat-loss. The top cover warms to or above the dew point. The condensation ceases. The convection in the hive then carries the moist air to the sides of the hive where the moisture condenses out as the air descends, and droplets of water flow down the sidewalls to the bottom board!! So tip your hive to get the condensation water to flow out
Here is a setup suggestion for hives that don’t need to be fed:
First cut 16 inch x 20 inch rectangle of 1/2 inch exterior grade plywood, and 16 inch x 20 inch slabs of Styrofoam™ insulation.
Place the plywood on the inner cover. Place the Styrofoam™ slab on top of the plywood, and place the telescoping cover on top of the Styrofoam™ to shed the weather.
High moisture in the hive promotes the growth of mildew fungus on wood surfaces, and mold on frames far from the brood ball. Mildew blackens the inside of wood surfaces, and eats through the wood. Painting the underside of the top cover, and the inside walls of the hive with a Propolis varnish will suppress mildew growth, and make your equipment last longer. (Propolis is antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-fungal) So save your propolis scrapings, and dissolve them in denatured alcohol from the paint department to make the propolis varnish.
Jerry Hayes (columnist in ABJ and Missouri beekeeper) leaves the “counting boards” out of the screen bottom boards even in winter in his climate where it snows. As long as there’s no cold draft through the hive, screen bottom boards are OK.
Scrape the propolis out of the frame rests of your hive boxes, and from the sides of end bars of your frames. (See above…)
Repair or replace frames or boxes as needed.
Make an inventory, and plan for next year. Order your boxes and frames now. Assemble and paint them before January so you will be ready to execute your plan next spring.
Retired bee boxes can be turned into swarm-traps (bait-hives). Swarms prefer old wood.
Read a good bee book, or some of those articles you set aside. Research those burning questions.
One more thing…
this fall many areas are experiencing a fall nectar flow. We may have to rob our hives of some capped honey frames this fall to insure they don’t become honey-bound.