Well, for those of you who have followed my somewhat intermittent blog, you know I recently moved north about 260 miles. I went from nice flat warm to very hilly and snow in the winter. I have never had to deal with snow before. Most of the places I lived see 0.1 inches of snow as a full scale emergency. Now I live in a place that apparently can amass several inches of snow in one day. Exciting times.
Bees (see I got to the bees) are very good at overwintering. They form a cluster in the hive and slowly move around in a bunch eating the honey as they need it. Cold usually does not kill bees. Bees (just for reference, when I say "bees" I am referring to European honey bees unless otherwise stated) die from hunger, mites, and moisture to name a few things.
Hunger I addressed on a previous blog. Mites. I hate mites. We had bees on out family's farm when I was a kid. The bees took care of themselves and thrived. Varroa mites have changed that. You HAVE to treat for mites. There are people who say they don't. People who say they are breeding resistant bees. I can kind of understand that but mites WILL kill a hive. You have to do something. Honey bees are not native to North America. They were brought over by settlers. They are not really wild and are considered livestock. I have never heard of someone letting their cow herd die off so they can breed resistant cows. Natural or chemical, please treat your bees for mites. You will be happier and your bees will definitely be happier. Rotate your treatments so the mites do not become resistant. I will cover more on this later when I get into honey bee pests and diseases.
That leaves moisture. As I said, cold does not usually kills bees, but a cold wet bee will die. But you have a lid on your hive, how would they get wet? In the same way you breathing on a cold mirror causes condensation, bees breathing in their hive causes condensation on inside of the cover. There are several ways to combat this. My favorite is a moisture quit. This technology is borrowed from the warre hive guys. Basically, you take a 1x3 and make a really short super. Staple #4 hardware cloth covered on one side with canvas to the bottom of it and fill it with wood chips. Unfortunately, I am not home right now to take pictures. I will add them in a few weeks when I get back. I will try to explain it in a little more detail. Imagine a stack, on the bottom is untreated unbleached canvas (I buy painters drop clothes for this at my local hardware store) on top of this is a piece of number 4 hardware cloth (1/4" squares) on top of that is a pile of wood shavings. I also drill two 3/4" holes on each long side of the box and screen them for ventilation.
This device takes care of two issues. One, it absorbs any excess moisture and two, it provides slow ventilation as the wood chips keep the air from flowing directly up through the hive. I leave my screened bottom boards on all year.
Another way is to lean your hive slightly to the rear. This is supposed to cause the drops that form to roll to the back of the hive and drip down the wall harmlessly...except for maybe some mold.
Insulation can also be added to the inside of the top cover to help keep it at a closer temperature to the cluster. I have doubts about the effectiveness of this. The cluster can be pretty far from the top cover in early winter. Not that insulating your hive is bad I just don't know how well it addresses the moisture issue.
Another issue you may encounter is rodent invasion. Sounds like a cheap drive in, huh? Well in this case a mouse moves in to your hive and generally makes a mess out if it. They make mouse guards for this. You can also staple #4 hardware cloth over the entrance.
I usually have my entrances about one bee sized at this time anyhow to help reduce mouse entry and robbing as food runs short and spring arrives.
A final note. If your hives are in direct path of the prevailing wind, build a wind break of some type. Hay bales, privacy fence, a tar paper wrap. Just something to help the bees a little to keep warm.
Now, get your wallet and or tools out. Spring is coming and it is time to get the new boxes built and frames assembled.