Winterization, Pt 4 of 6
Overwintering Your Beehive
When preparing your beehives for winter wrapping, there are a lot of things to consider. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare your plans.
How wrapped is wrapped?: Although at first thought you imagine that the bees need to be packed in tight like a well wrapped Christmas present, keep in mind that the bees are breathing organisms, and byproducts of respiration are water and carbon dioxide. Without proper ventilation, the beehive can succumb to carbon dioxide poisoning or become chilled due to moisture build up.
What is the most common causes of winter kill?: There are, I am sure as in anything to do with bees, many beekeepers who will disagree with me, but through asking every beekeeper I meet, their answer has been most commonly moisture build up issues. Bees are fully capable of living in a moist environment throughout the winter so long as the moisture isn’t excessive; such as drops or draining water falling on to the cluster. That is why it is important that the bees have proper ventilation through the top of the hive, not just the bottom. Excessive moisture build up can also cause mould to form in the early spring, causing the bees to live in a high degree of stress. Have a look at the picture below of mould pulled from a beehive that survived the winter season.
Other issues with moisture build up:
The bees may become ice bound in the winter. When this happens, it can look as though the beehive starved out in the winter, even though there can be a full super full of honey below the cluster. This is a challenging thing to prove, because by the time that you unwrap the bees, the ice has melted and fallen to the bottom of the hive, and therefore you cannot see the direct causes of why the bees didn’t move down to eat the honey surplus. This can be caused by a poor winter location. Some locations are wetter and increase the chances of moisture build-up. Also, this may be caused by poor ventilation in the hive, causing the ice to build up instead of move out of the hive with air circulation. It is important that you have a lower and upper air access, even in the smallest amounts, to allow a small convection within the hive for moist air to leave the hive.
Ideas and strategies to decrease moisture issues:
Now, I have heard of many things being done to help maintain moisture in the past year, including maxi pads, external heating elements for the hive, indoor winterization, and the like. But the best way to ensure that your bees are going to enjoy a dryer winter season is to ensure that the hive is properly insulated on the roof. Heat rises in the hive and it is through this heat loss that the outside weather fluctuations can directly affect the internal climate of the colony. With the weather that we have here in Calgary and area, these fluctuations can be extreme; -30 one day, +10 the next. That is why it is important that you offer as much buffer space for the bees to regulate their hive temperature with as little work and stress as possible.
Carpet Method: Many beekeepers like to use carpet directly on top of the top bars with the shag facing toward the hive. Carpet has a high fibre count and will insulate the hive, as well as absorb excess moisture when hive temperature fluctuations cause the ambient humidity to distillate. You can then likes to place in Reflectix on top of the carpet. Then you can wrap the whole unit with a black plastic wrapped insulation folded in on the top over the Reflectix, with the telescoping lid holding the wrapping down. The wrapping has holes in it where the entrances (with their reducers on) are at the bottom and the top of the beehive so that the bees can fly on sunny days to expel their wastes. (Bees wont poop in the hive over the winter to keep the hive clean and decrease the chances of disease) Bill does the three layered whammy! This is what I am going to be doing this fall with my bees, in both the langstroths and the Top Bar Hives.
Sam Comfort and Reflectix: Sam likes to put reflectix directly over the top bars. Keep in mind that Sam lives in a more temperate climate to here, living in upstate New York. Reflectix can be bought through any hardware store and bought in a roll. He says that it helps keep the heat in the hive quite well.
Insulated Super: There are a lot of beekeepers who will do an insulated top shallow or standard super as well. This is done by placing a feeder board over the top brood box in a Langstroth beehive design, then placing a shallow super over the board, filling the box with household insulation, wool blankets, or leaves/organic matter (such is used in Japanese Warre hives). Some beekeepers will use the feeder space throughout the fall and keep an over turned paint can over the feeder box to feed the bees in the early fall ensure the bees have enough for the winter. These internal feeders will decrease the robbing behaviour in a densely populated bee yard. Quilted Top Box Example
TBH Winterization: As with langstroth beehives, it is imperative that there is an adequate amount of roof insulation. I am going to winterize my hives similar to the with the carpet and the triple roof insulation and wrap. I have also drilled a hole just under the rim of the lid which measures ½ inch at the front. This will allow bees to come and go as they please from the top on warmer days, and also allow for the moisture to flow out of the hive. I am making sure that the lid overhangs the hole because I don’t want excess moisture from the lid dripping in and freezing the hole shut.