Last blog I reviewed the seven things I do inside each hive in September. If you read the entry, you know there were actually ten. I like to exceed expectations.
The winter forecast is quite foreboding. Due to other obligations, we haven’t done the “September 7” to all our hives yet … nor started the “October 8” for any of them. I don’t like prepping hives for winter in early October, but I’m still shivering from last winter. Probably best to be ready early.
Here are the eight things we’ll do to each hive in October. Remember, this is what we do. There are plenty of other folks who do different things.
1. Put in critter guards. You can purchase these, or you can make your own easily. (Quarter-inch screen from the hardware store allows the bees to pass but not mice.)
Why October? Because the nights are cool, rodents are looking for a warm place to spend the night, and then the winter. What better place than a warm hive full of honey? When the temperature drops into the 40s (and below) the bees will cluster and not defend the hive, so best to get the guards on now.
Does the wooden entrance reducer accomplish the same thing? Sort of—depends upon your entrance reducer. Mice can slip through amazingly small gaps. Some of my entrance reducers go so small that I’m pretty sure mice can’t get in there BUT I don’t want to restrict the entrance that much yet. Until there’s a killing frost, I want the ladies out gathering, not hanging out inside consuming. I use the screen until November-ish when I reduce the entrance way down.
I also have some chewed up from-the-inside wooden entrance reducers, proof that one year I put them on too late and the mice gnawed the opening large enough to slip out.
Then there was that one year when I trapped them in the hive. That hive didn’t survive, and when I opened it in the spring, I found dead bees, all the honey and comb chewed up, and two field mice leapt out. You probably heard me scream … even if you were in Arkansas.
2. Make an upper entrance (Lang equipment): The upper entrance is critical for two things—air flow to keep the moisture under control, and to allow bees to fly out for a winter bio-break when the snow (or dead mice, or dead bees) have clogged the lower entrance. I suggest drilling a half-inch hole just below the handhold in the upper hive body, on a side away from the prevailing winds. Others recommend 3/8ths or 5/8ths—whatever drill bit you have handy.
3. Put in the solid bottom board if you’re going to use one. Again, this applies to Lang equipment. You may have only a solid bottom board, in which case—jump to the next item. If you have a screen bottom board in, you may / not want to add the solid board (usually it is a plastic sheet that slides in below it.)
We typically don’t put in the solid board, because we want the ventilation. But, we do skirt our hives to avoid gusts blowing up into the hive.
And right now, because we’ve already had such chilly nights, we’ve got the plastic boards in to help them keep the brood warm. We plan to remove them when we add the bottom skirts (next item.) I’ve gone both ways over the years, and can’t claim greater success with or without them.
4. Insulation / wrapping: Because we tend to use screened bottom boards, and because many of our hives are in areas with strong prevailing winds, and because I’m female and thus always cold, I like to wrap a roofing paper skirt around my hives. It is long enough to touch the ground, and I usually anchor it down with bricks or boards.
Historically I’ve wrapped them all the way up to the top cover—that may be a bit much. Last year we only went as high as the middle of the upper box, thus covering the seams between boxes. Remember to open the upper entrance after you wrap them if you cover it up.
5. Windbreak: If your hives aren’t naturally protected, do something to keep the arctic blasts from pummeling them relentlessly. It doesn’t have to be pretty—straw bales, lawn chairs, a picnic table on its side, a junk car … whatever your neighborhood association lets you gets away with.
6. Put a weight on the top. You’ve probably had one on already all season, but make sure it is there for those ruthless winds.
7. External review: Look around the hive for potential hazards. Are there limbs above that could break off? Branches that will droop to the hive when they’re snow laden? Is your windbreak solid, or will it blow into the hive?
8. Thank each and every bee you see … because you might not see them come April. Hive mortality averages 30% nationwide, and many bees die from old age in the hive. You’ll be checking on them throughout the winter, but thank them for their service while you have the chance.
Is that it? No—there will be things to check throughout the winter. I’ll cover those when winter comes. (I’m in no rush!)