It’s been a long time since I posted about bees. I’ve had a post in mind, but have been too busy being grateful and vacationing with my wife. 😉
Although officially winter hasn’t begun yet, it sure seems like winter here in Colorado today. We got a few inches of snow yesterday and the hives look all snug in their snowy insulation.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve had mostly mild weather, but starting around Thanksgiving, we’ve been trending towards more wintry weather. During Thanksgiving week, we had temperatures down around 10F at night, but then we had a week of highs in the 50’s allowing the bees to (hopefully) get out a bit. I say hopefully because I was out of town or at work during the day and by the time I’d get home each night, the temps were below 50, so BnB2 looked pretty lifeless. I didn’t see lots of dead bees out in front of the hive which I would expect after the Thanksgiving deep freeze. On Thursday, I decided to peek in the window and lo and behold, there were lots of bees still buzzing away inside. I really need to get a stethoscope or an infrared camera so I can check on them without having to open up the window. Perhaps Santa will be good to me and bring me either (or both) of those!
Backing up a bit in time to October, here’s where the hives stand going into winter.
Sarah put up a hay bale windbreak around her hive to protect it from the cold north winds. She also bungied the top down so the wind wouldn’t blow it away. Here in Colorado, we can get some very strong chinook winds (97 mph a couple of weeks ago), so securing the hive is necessary and Sarah’s hive is in a pretty exposed area. I stopped by one day for a last check and to add some insulation to the window and the top and she told me that she hadn’t seen any bees flying. When I opened the window, there were no bees, but slowly but surely, like souls on their way to heaven, they came toward the light. After a couple of minutes, there were lots of bees at the window (but fewer than I would have really liked). At least they were still alive heading into winter.
I also put some insulation in the window and on top of Duncan’s hive (Hello Kitty) and BnB2. I use the foiled lined “bubble wrap” insulation which fits perfectly between the cover and window. I also lay a sheet of it above the top bars. I also bungied down the lid and secured BnB2 to the ground. Duncan’s hive is in a sheltered area, so hopefully will be okay without being secured to the ground. Again, there were not as many bees as I would have liked in Hello Kitty, but at least they were still alive. I haven’t had a chance to check to see how they made it through this latest cold. BnB2 had lots of bees going into this winter season and still seems to be doing well.
Entrances and such
There was recently a good discussion over at my friend Julie’s Happy Hour at the Top Bar blog about how big an entrance should be left open for winter and where that entrance should be. There are different schools of thought on this but the main idea is that you want to make sure the air can flow so there is no moisture build up. A top entrance would let moisture out (and in deep snow, provide an exit for the bees on warm days!) You also want to make sure that mice can’t get in, so some people put wire mesh over the entrances to keep the mice out.
This year, I have two different kinds of entrances. On BnB2, I have an end entrance, and I always close it down to where only a couple of bees (and hopefully no mice) can get through. There is a danger that if there are lot of dead bees in the hive (say after a really bad cold snap), that the entrance could get blocked. So far, I haven’t had that problem. I also have a ventilation hole at the back of the hive and usually put a cork in it for the winter. However, when I went to do that this year, the bees had already closed it up with propolis (bee glue). I figure they know what they are doing and if they need to open it up, they still can without the cork.
Hello Kitty and Sarah’s hives have side entrances consisting of three 1″ holes. For these, I plugged up two of the holes with corks and left the other open. On Hello Kitty, I left the hole closest to the end open, but on Sarah’s hive, the middle one is open. I think the end one would be best since it would keep cold air coming in further from the brood, but by the time I got over to Sarah’s to close things up it was late in the season and I figured they had already adjusted for the middle location. Like everything in beekeeping, it’s a grand experiment – hopefully one with a happy ending. Sarah’s hive has a great southern exposure which hopefully will help keep things warmer.
These hives were a modified design of the Phil Chandler top bar plans, which usually have the holes in the center of the hive. I can see the advantage of having them in the middle to keep the cold air away from the brood area. But I figure the bees can move the brood area away from the entrance when they are gearing up for winter and having the holes near the end avoids having to do the comb shift that you have to do with center entrances.
So now it’s time to wait for Spring. The bees have what they have for food. Except for maybe Hello Kitty, they all had good honey stores. Soon the Winter Solstice will be upon us and then the hives will start gearing up for spring. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season – however you celebrate!