Settle down in your fireside armchair and sink into Emily Scott’s lovely blog post on winter and the beeyard:
She ends with a lovely shot of snowdrop shoots. Snowdrops should be the international flower of beekeeping!
Emily beekeeps in England, in a climate very similar to ours here in the Pacific Northwest…and they always bring cake to share in the beeyard. This visit it was fruity mincemeat cake. Sigh. We need to get behind this tradition in Canada.
But Emily’s post reminds me that in January, it is time to make sure your emergency feed is on…and stays on. I do a quick peek weekly to make sure the girls, who are beginning to brood up again, don’t run themselves out of food. Particularly as our 2016 season was a hungry one, nectar and pollen poor.
This year I used Krabby Patties, wet sugar packed into wax paper sandwich bags. They worked well, but with the hives so light, had to be replenished too often, and a few of the hungrier colonies ate them all up before my next check…not a good situation.
Next year I will fashion candy boards a la fellow club member Russell Deputch.
Russell makes a feeding eke (shim) and the bottom is heavy wire. A layer of newspaper goes on the wire, then 7-8 lb. of dampened sugar. You can fiddle with the sugar recipe, adding what you please to the water used to dampen the sugar. I like to add a dollop of my own honey and a couple of pinches of Rooster Booster for extra trace minerals. And I park a protein patty in the middle as well.
Other beekeepers might add some cider vinegar, or Honey B Healthy. Because these are coming under question, with some reports of deleterious effects on bee gut function, I will shelve their use pending definitive research findings.
I like the sheer volume of emergency rations Russell’s custom boards put on the hives. Good insurance.
In Emily’s post, note she references a poly hive. Club member Tim Trudel has acquired a Paradise Honey polystyrene nuc from Finland:
They also manufacture a full hive setup. Note that the nuc can be made double high for overwintering (top box solid honey), and the nuc is also designed such that a splitter board can be inserted, splitting the nuc into two 3-frame-wide halves (useful as queen mating castles). Boxes are available in both deep and shallow depths.
In 2017 we will experiment with overwintering setups like these for nuc colonies in support of a multi-year queen breeding project. We want to raise the quality of our area bee gene pool, and begin offering all area beekeepers queen stock that is capable of strong overwintering and strong spring buildup. Too many of our local beekeepers are losing their bees every winter.
Why is this? We think poor industrial queen quality may be a large part of the answer. In Canada, most people acquiring bees in the spring turn to the New Zealand packages, and those queens have demonstrated a 60% failure rate in their first season, as well as poor Varroa tolerance. Similar failure rates are found in USA packages coming from southern packagers, with the added risk of resistant AFB, africanized genes (not wanted in our urban beekeeping environment), and Small Hive Beetle.
But to breed enough queens to “proof” for superior performance, we want to overwinter as many as we can, choosing the very best to breed from the next spring, based on overwintering ability. Running full hive setups over winter is expensive, labour intensive and frankly, overwintering in standard wood Langstroths is not ideal. The wood hives are difficult to insulate well, tend to be drafty, and rot readily in our rainforest climate.
So we are going to trial a few winter nuc setups to see what works best for us.
Winter is the hardest time for this beekeeper. But it is also the time to plan. And get equipment ready for the coming season.
Spring is on the way. Emily is right, snowdrop shoots are appearing in coastal gardens. Feed your bees, and get ready for their spring explosion. Winter will be over soon.