Overwintering Bee Hives
We've hit our first frost here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and it came with a snowstorm. Beekeepers are preparing hives for overwintering. I'm a first year beekeeper and I'm thrilled that my honey bee colony is healthy as we head into winter.
Here are a few recommendations for overwintering your bee hive. I’m sure you are already on it, but in just in case you're looking for suggestions, consider these:
- Feed your hives a heavy sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) until night time temps consistently drop below freezing; it’s a good idea to use gallon water jugs and prepare syrup using the water containers. Make large batches of sugar syrup and put this mixture back into the water container. These are easy to carry and pouring your syrup into whatever kind of feeder you are using is also a simpler task.
- Consider adding supplements like Honey B Healthy to your sugar syrup. The natural ingredients, extra protein and essential oils will help boost bees immune systems while also encouraging survival behavior as the hive shrinks. This time of year, the drones are kicked out and they will not be fed by the worker bees. Sugar syrup feeding alone may get your bees through November, but making or buying fondant is a good idea. Once it's freezing temperatures hit, the bees won't be able to process the water in sugar syrup or enjoy cleansing flights. Don't set your bees up for spring digestive problems.
- Get your hive insulation materials ready! With top bar hives, you can purchase R13 insulation and tuck it into the roof of your top bar hive, or simply lay it on top of the top bars and put your cover back on. Purchase sheet of styrofoam, pack them into large trash bags, seal the bag edges with a heat source (an iron works if you put a thin towel on top of the plastic first). Tape these insulation panels in place using a tie down strap, making sure not to completely obstruct the hive opening. On a mild day, your girls will want to take cleansing flights to eliminate waste, and they need a way out.
- With top bar hives, once you have insulated the roof from the inside, tuck an insulation panel (described above) underneath the body of the hive and tie all down with tie down straps. A dog run screw inserted into the ground beneath the top bar hive will hold the hive in place in the event of strong winter winds.
- Have a supply on hand for making fondant or buy it.. On mild days reaching over 40 degrees, you can safely open the hive — quickly — and leave fondant in the hives. Again, consider adding essential oils such as lemon oil to the fondant. Think of the herbs bees love to forage on during the summer — thyme, pepperment, lemon balm, hyssop — small amounts any of these essential oils are safe to add to your sugar water or fondant and they will help keep your bees immune systems in better shape.
- Look for supplements that will help stave off Nosema and bees developing intestinal issues that lead to diarrhea in the spring.
- Make sure your bees can reach their honey stores! Your queen will continue to lay eggs during the cold months and all the bees are going to need a food source. How can you set up your hive frames so honey and pollen stores are interspersed within the hive?
- Check in with your local extension service and/or beekeeping club for more information on how to overwinter hives on roof tops and in other urban settings.
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