winterizing a beehive

Winterizing Hives – Season 6

It is the most critical time of the year. The colonies will not raise brood until the spring, so the bees that were raised in the fall is all we have got. The bees stay in a tight cluster during the colder temperatures. The bees on the outside of the cluster need to rotate with the ones inside the cluster every few minutes. The cluster then slowly moves from one frame to another, as the stores get consumed by the bees trying to stay warm.

Do beekeepers insulate their hives?

In the north, many beekeepers insulated their hives in the late fall. In Europe, some beekeepers move their hives inside special sheds. It is so cold and dark in Denmark (only about 1.5 hours of daylight for some time in December), that the bees, cows, pigs, and all other animals get put up in the barns (or sheds) for the winter. There, the temperatures stay pretty stable, making it less stressful on animals. Less stress means less digestive problems. Digestive problems can be deadly for bees: they do not empty themselves outside of the hive, and that leads to the spread of disease.

But what about us, the folks in the south? It has been unusually warm this winter in Alabama. Still, every so often, the temperatures drop bellow 20F, and stay there for a few nights. Insulation adds a little help to the colonies’ efforts to stay warm.

My insulation method

I use canvas cloth, cut to fit just inside the dimensions of the super, to insulate the deep super (the brood box) on the top. This is a practice among many Eastern European beekeepers. After a few seasons of using these cloths, I am very happy to report that they don’t just add insulation, but also help a great deal with moisture control. As the bees warm themselves, there is a great risk of condensation buildup. The canvas absorbs some of the moisture. It also keeps some of the heat in, during those cold nights. The hole is cut in the middle to ensure that the bees still have access to the top feeding super. The inner cover goes on the top of this canvas cloth, then follows the medium super, which hides the feeding bottle.

Canvas cover for a hive controls moisture and keeps the bees warmer

The bottom board has its own layer of insulation. In the past, I have successfully used a Styrofoam sheet in the bottom tray. There was no moisture or mold  in the hives, which had Styrofoam, as compared to the ones  that had empty bottom boards. This year, I am trying wood shavings. I will write about the results of this in my spring inspection post.

The wrapping is optional. Two of my colonies appear rather small (which I found out during my last winter inspection). I will wrap those hives in a bubble wrap, which had been working very well for a couple of seasons now.

I still need access to the feeding super (top box), so I only wrap the bottom, deep super. This little insulation adds a little protection from the winds (up to 40 mph here, during the winter). The strap keeps the hive securely attached to the stand.

I secure the wrap with a few strips of a heavy duty duct tape.

Here is a view from the front of the wrapped hive.

And now back to feeding the bees every week, as needed. Some of my colonies are so full that they don’t take the syrup anymore. Still, February is right around the corner. Season 7 has almost started.

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