Preparing for the winter, Part I

The fall is so lovely here, in Alabama. During the day, it gets so warm that a light jacket is enough to enjoy the blue skies and a little breeze for hours… At night, however, the temperatures drop below 40F. So, last week, I started preparing the bees for the winter.

It used to be that beekeepers simply installed the bottom board and the mouse guard. After last winter, though, when most lost half of their bees (including myself) due to cold and long January, February, and March months, the strategy must change. The major challenge is to persuade the bees to stock up before December, instead of laying and eating up the stores…

Now, I like Italian bees. They are gentle, almost sweet, by nature. Their queens are productive and they do start early in the season and finish late in the fall. That is a good thing, at least, for a couple of reasons. Number one reason is that the fall bees have a different body composition (more fat storage cells) and the more fall bees we have, the better are the chances for the colony’s survival and recuperation in the spring. The second reason is that the early laying ensures that the colony can grow to a nice size before the first week of April, when most beekeepers in Alabama start installing honey supers. That was the case for most springs, but last, anyway.

Italian bees do have a negative side. They eat up their stores, and they are slow to stock up. Last year, we had been feeding our bees through December. In January, I visited the colonies and found out that three were almost empty of stores. There is nothing like opening a hive to find a very large pile of dead bees on the bottom board, with bodies stuck in the cells (sign of starvation)… I am talking about a very large pile of bees…

So, this year, I will be blogging about winterizing and feeding (force feeding) the girls, because, frankly, after this year losses and my own illness lasting for 9 months, I will be ordering bees and spending even more time reading. Reading and trying everything I can to keep the girls well.

I have once read in the Russian beekeeping magazine, Pchelovodstvo, an article by a hobby beekeeper who used Styrofoam sheet in his bottom board. I thought, at first, that the problem would be with moisture build-up and mold: after all, it is the South, and it gets nice warm and sunny during the day, even in winter. Not so. I tried the method in three of my ten hives. Those were the ones who did best through the winter. No mold, no signs of nosema, just happy bees…

Bottom board for beehive

So, I highly recommend using a Styrofoam lining in the bottom board when the winter is cold and wet. As you can see from the photo above, I also cut out a piece of animal feed bag, so that I can recycle the Styrofoam, without worrying too much about some nosema spores sticking to it and sickening the next year’s bees.

donkey and goats

Our animals are enjoying the extra pasture that we keep open for them from late fall through spring. Just like our bees need medicated syrup, so do our animals need to get dewormed right now. For years, we have been using Molly’s Herbal Wormer. We can’t say enough thanks for her wonderful formula. Our goats and chickens have never been sick. We have been using her formula for 5 years now.

 

 

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