by Laura Maigatter
Since the bees will be left alone without your direct oversight for so long, it is wise to give them the highest level of protection you can muster. In this climate, having a hive overwinter successfully involves more than just honey stores. Taking precautions against the elements and pests is essential. We strongly recommend installing mouse guards on all four entrances of the Beepod, as mice are a determined and persistent pest to winter hives. THEY GOT TIME AND DON’T WANT TO DIE. We also encourage you to protect your hive from wind as much as possible. This could mean moving it behind a protected wall, using hay bales (which also attract mice, FYI), and wrapping your hive. We offer a Winterizing Kit that contains our Beerito Wrap, mouse guards and interior insulation to protect our hives in winter:
Once the weather turns, as it has this past week, it best to stop going into the hive. For those of us used to almost weekly interaction with our colonies, this can be a bit of a shock. After all the care that’s been given, leaving them alone for months seems extreme. It is hard, but I assure you that the best thing for the bees is to be left in their cluster undisturbed till spring. The general rule is that anything under 50F is too cold to open the hive. If you do have to open it for some reason, be careful not to break the cluster and work quickly to avoid losing too much heat. Then it’s a waiting game.
You should be especially mindful of solar warm days. Bees won’t fly under 55 degrees, but a sunny day that feels like it’s over 55 will inspire the bees to make a bathroom run. These are the days when you’ll head out to the hive to look for signs of life, which is a nice way of saying you’ll be on the lookout for bee poo. If are unable to be there during the day to look for flying bees, look for the evidence. If the hive is alive, there will be lots of brown spots on the snow and on the roof of the Beepod, from bees taking their first bathroom flight in months. Trust me, it’s pretty exciting to see those spots after months of freezing cold.
All winter long your bees will be clustered together for warmth. Heater bees will have their heads all the way in the comb, vibrating to create enough warmth to heat the honey. We have a neat little trick to let us know if our bees are alive and well, when there are no outward signs of life. It involves a heat gun and a steady hand. We plan to have sensors inside the hive to monitor the location in the near future, but for now the heat gun does the trick!
We highly recommend engaging in bee related winter projects to pass the time. These include wax rendering, equipment repair, and research to increase your knowledge. Plan your spring garden with bee friendly flowers- include lots of early and late blooming flowers. Listed below is a winter movie list compiled by our founder, Charlie Koenen. It is fairly comprehensive and at least a few of these are on my personal watch list this winter.
Queen of the Sun – Must see video… is the fun and friendly “european” version of Vanishing of the bees… both are hard hitting but this one takes you there in a fun and fanciful way… not just the facts.
More Than Honey – My favorite bee movie – very few words because the pictures tell all the story… some of the most amazing closeup footage of bee behavior ever captured.
Vanishing of the Bees – The film what sounded the alarm… very well made and hard hitting.. a must see.
Secret Life of Bees – great book and movie for enjoyable reading … a great tie-in to bees and beekeeping.
Backyard Hive – DVD and book with Corwin Bell – more good insight from another TBH luminary Corwin’s peaceful approach to bee guardianship is worthy of embracing.
Mr Holmes – We’ve always been saying how Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle wrote that Sherlock Holmes retired to the hills of Dover to pursue beekeeping… as a way to draw similarities between the observational skills and deductive reasoning of Holmes and the way of the bees… now someone made a most delightful movie of precisely that…. and even more alluring, it was the last film made before Ian McKellen died, one of his best… especially the last scene.
Check out our Winter Reading List Here!
Wishing you and your bees a safe and warm winter!
This post was updated on 8/14/2017.