[October 2017 update follows]
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 as a feed stimulant. And I park a protein patty in the middle as well.
Other beekeepers might add some cider vinegar, essential oils 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 or more bee room) and there is also a honey super depth availabl. 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). Unfortunately the splitter board is coroplast and is very hard to fit. Supers 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 (who are often making packages out of post almond pollination bees and unproven queens), with the added risk of resistant AFB, africanized genes (not wanted in our urban beekeeping environment), and Small Hive Beetle coming along for the ride.
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.
October 2017 Update: By fall I found I had way too many colonies to winterize than time to build candy boards. I had attended a lecture by Rudi Peters on his winter prep, and realized his use of R20 insulation batts in a bag would work well for me. My friend Barbara had found big hive-top feeders this summer and we bought out the store: not only were they large enough to deliver a big, multi-gallon fall feed of 2:1 to push the bees to put up stores, they could be filled with dampened sugar, thus functioning as winter feeders.
Aside from time saving, these two measures changed how I worked my winter hives. In past years, with fondant on the top bars, a screen over that and a wood-chip-filled quilt box on top of that, it was really hard to check the fondant status without at least partially unwrapping the stack. What a pain! This year I have placed the inner cover over the top bars, placed a layer of Reflectix on that (to minimize the chance the inner cover is cold and so forms a surface on which the warm, humid air rising off the cluster condenses and drips onto the bees), placed a plastic bag wrapped fitted piece of R20 pink insulation, topped with a fitted piece of insulation board. Over that goes the outer cover.
To check the sugar stores all you have to do is pop off the outer cover, remove the insulation board and bag, exposing the feeder below. No need to take off that upper box or the inner cover.
Sliding my hand under that R20 batt I can feel that the top of the in-hive feeder, now filled with damp sugar, is toasty warm to the touch. Far warmer than when I had wood chip quilt boxes on.
Hoping this config gives me improved overwintering: it is now certainly easier to check the sugar rations.