The biggest problem I see with new beekeepers is not planning ahead. In our beekeeping coop new beekeepers are always rushing around for needed hive boxes and frames, feeders, robber screens, quilts …. The best advice I could give new beekeepers is to plan 2 months ahead of where you are at. Pest and disease identification and control should be an ongoing process and if you are beginning now it may be too late. Evidence of chalk brood or nosema would indicate a weak colony (Honey Bee Diseases and Parasites). Increased ventilation and removal of old comb can be done to combat the chalk brood and a pollen patty/fumagillin mixture may help combat the nosema. Mite counts throughout the year and subsequent treatments should let you know whether you have a major issue. Mite treatments like formic acid can continue into October as long as there is a day time high temp of 10c and oxalic acid is usually done in December when there is little to no brood present. A reduced screened entrance using eighth inch hardware cloth can be used to allow for needed ventilation during formic acid treatments while providing a more easily defended reduced entrance. The video below "Getting Your Hives Ready for Winter" is a recorded webinar with Kim Flottum (Bee expert and editor of Bee Culture magazine) which does a very good job of discussing winter preparation for bee colonies focusing on year around mite control. Controlling mites goes a long way to controlling virus transmission and overall colony health.
The bee colonies are actively into winter preparation by increased house cleaning, increased hive defense and the removal of drones. The drones having fulfilled their roles in hive thermoregulation and mating become a liability as they do not participate in foraging or hive tasks and can consume twice that of worker bees. Hygienic house cleaning (i.e removal of dead bees, applying antiseptic propolis ...) which is difficult in the cold of winter when the bees are confined to the cluster is an important part of disease reduction. With the decrease in available forage robbing and wasp attacks become a real concern so guard bees will become more defensive and in the wild the colony may reduce the size of the entrance with propolis and wax. The beekeeper can assist by reducing the entrance to as small as 1.5 centimeters or a half inch to make it easier to defend. If wasp attacks or robbing persists you can use a robber screen which are easy to make.
The U.S. Bee Informed Survey (the only large scale North American survey of this type) of wintering hives showed that only 3 conditions determined winter survival success and they were adequate food, strong colonies (equalization) and ventilation.
Wrapping and insulation showed no benefit but I think that depends on where you live. If you live in cold northern climates like Winterpeg either you wrap and insulate or you bring the girls inside. 40 below is 40 below. Insulation is not necessary in Vancouver and can be counter productive by keeping the heat out and preventing the hive from warming up. Some local beekeepers wrap their hives with black roofing paper to prevent wind penetration and to help absorb the heat (Black objects absorb more heat). The argument against this is that the girls take care of any wind penetration with use of propolis and do we want a warmer hive in the winter? Warmer means more active bees and more food consumption. For us wrapping in March may be an option as we have lots of blossoms (Willow, forsythia, flowering cherry, bulbs ...) but marginal foraging temperatures. Wrapping would warm the hives and get the girls flying earlier in the day increasing their pollen and nectar intake and stimulate egg laying.
|Temperature difference on black and white surface|
|The bee hive in winter without any form of moisture reduction|
|Insulated Moisture Quilt|
It's good at this point to make sure you have your emergency winter feeders ready. A major cause of colony death is late winter starvation (February - April) which can be solved by the use of an emergency winter feeder (Candy Board).
Also effecting hive performance is available forage which can vary according to whether you are in a rural agricultural or urban setting. The rural, agricultural areas in Surrey, Delta and the Fraser Valley tend to have extreme honey and brood production during crop blossoms but can suffer in the off season while the urban areas tend to have a more consistent food source availability throughout the foraging period (March - November) due to urban landscaping and irrigation. We're fortunate to have 7 cultivated acres in our 2 combined community gardens surrounded by fields of clover with flowering trees. While it varies by region, because of the reasons discussed above (weather and available forage) and the size of the colony we need on average at least 8 deep or 10 medium frames of honey (65 lbs or 30 kilograms) to over winter. The honey frames should be positioned on both sides of the cluster in the bottom box and above the cluster in the second super (super = hive box). If the cluster is in an upper box I like to switch the box to the bottom in preparation for winter. In the spring you can reverse that process as the girls will have worked their way up to upper part of the second box.
All beekeepers have plus and negative food accumulation months and generally April 1 to Oct 1 are positive food accumulation months for us in the Strathcona area of Vancouver. March and October can be neutral or negative depending on the available foraging days (weather). November through February are winter cluster, negative food accumulation months.
Wasps are a major problem for us in the late summer and fall so we have reduced our entrances to less than an inch and screened off the upper entrances. This blocks potential wasp intrusion and robbing by other bees on the feeding and still allows ventilation. The girls are better able to defend the reduced single entrance. I don't indiscriminately kill wasps (I've identified 9 different types in our garden including recently a parasitic wasp in my blue mason cocoons) but have found them increasingly aggressive towards our colonies for a longer period of time in the fall (last year until December). I've found the lure variety to be very effective on our greatest threat which are the common Yellowjacket wasps. This lure trap can also be used in the spring to kill the emerging wasp queens. Home Depot sells these locally.
|Difficult house cleaning|
|Wire mesh mouse proof entrance reducer|