Winter Preparation : The Final Steps

The bees are all tucked in for the winter now.  After making a bit more than enough mouse guards to place on those hives still “unguarded”, I switched the hives from fall-feed-mode to winter-mode.

OUT WITH THE FEEDERS IN WITH INSULATION

Each of my hives has a top “collar”: a 2-inch high box.  This is where their upper entrance is found.  In the spring and summer, this is an open area with a piece of burlap covering the top bars.  For three weeks in the early spring and late fall this is where the bees’ dollar-store hive top feeder is placed.

As winter and our long cold, wet days fall upon us (no snow yet, I’m happy to say) the feeders come out a piece of 1 inch insulation is placed on top the burlap which is on top of the top bars.  The visual sequence:

Brookfield Farm hive top feeder (empty)

Bees finishing off the last drop

 

Burlap ready to be pulled over Brookfield Farm (Maple Falls, WA) bees top bars

feeder out

Burlap covers the top bars of a Brookfield Farm bee hive

Burlap in place

Bee Hive Insulation on top bars

Insulation Over The Burlap

The insulation is slightly smaller than the area inside the collar, and slightly shorter than the height of the collar this, conceptually lets moist air flow around the insulation to be wafted away around the insulation and out of the box.  I find this keeps the boxes quite dry inside – dry is a triumph for any structure in this area.  Any dampness that might collect on the lid – stays above the insulation.

Does this actually help to keep the bees warm? Darned if I know.  I don’t have the technology to find out (a thermometer that could be lowered into the cluster).  Nor would I want to disturb the bees to discover the answer.  But it 1) makes me feel like I’m doing something for them and 2) does seem to keep the hives drier inside.

(A side note: the hive in which these pictures were taken have 4 upper entrances – the small holes you can see at the top of the images.  Most of my “collars” have 2 entrances.  The four seen here are because these were older, thinner collars and I need to stack 2 of them to make room for the feeder and insulation).

OUTSIDE THE HIVES

Which takes me to the “rain hats”.  After doing all the work inside, I place a piece of rolled roofing asphalt on top of the hives.  When two hives sit side by side, my usual configuration, the rain hats overlap and are tied down together.

Brookfield Farm bee hives ready for winter

Rope and Roofing in Place

Each piece of rolled roofing is cut to 2 feet wide and kept the length of the material (which I think is 3 feet long).  I just let it hang over the back.  Each of these is tied down with rope, sash, or bailing twine – whatever I have available.

Nylon twine to hold rope for bee hive rain hat

Plastic twine from a construction delivery

 

Concrete Block for bee hives with twine

Nylon Twine ready for rope

 

Rally tall hive with rain hat and ropes at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

hive and nuc ready for winter rains

I noticed that another local beekeeper has a variation on this theme.  His hives are on pallets, and he must cut his roofing material to about 3 or 4 feet wide.  Then he attaches boards to two ends of the material and drapes the roofing over the hives.  Sorry, no images.  His hives are along the Mt. Baker Highway, so I see them, but I don’t know the beekeeper.

ALL TUCKED IN

So with the feeders out, the insulation in, and the rain hats on and tied down my bees are ready for winter.  Which is good, because about 2 days after I did all the above, winter hit: rain and freezing temperatures.

I’m waiting for a nice day (or at least not pouring rain) to go out and weed-whack the area around one bear fence.  Then I can really call it done-for-the-winter, and go back to other farm relaxations: hoof trimming (goats, not bees) , installing the new water system, building bee wooden ware for next year and exploring new areas to explore in beekeeping.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls Washington.  What winter preparations do you do for your hives?  Or have you found a minimalist approach to be the best in your area?

About Bean

I am the beekeeper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, near Maple Falls, Washington. My bees fly from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives in the foothills of Mt. Baker (the second most glaciated volcano in Washington). I sell the raw honey my bees make, as well as honey produced by Washington beekeepers who are friends - the emphasis is on raw honey from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives. I also make and sell Raw Honey Infusions (Ginger, Lavender, and Vanilla Bean; Raw Honey Infused Organic Vinegars; and Beeswas Salves. You can find me or my husband at Seattle's Fremont Market and at Bellingham's Farmers Market. When not with the bees, you'll most likely meet me up some mountain trail, pinhole camera and digital camera slung over my shoulders, and my pack goats trailing behind me.
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2 Responses to Winter Preparation : The Final Steps

  1. Robert Douglas says:

    Can you tell me if you feed your bees in winter, and if so how and what do you feed them? I am new to beekeeping. Thank you very much,

    Robert

    • Bean says:

      How fitting that I’ve just picked up your message – I just posted about making fondant (bee candy) — as I said in that post, I don’t usually need to feed in the winter as I leave a lot of honey on the hives. But this winter has been very, very warm (for here), and I did make and put some bee candy on about 10 hives. The recipe is now up on the site (from Bingaling Bees up here in Washington).

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