Last week, I caught the bees outside on a warmer fall day. They were sipping water from the decorative cabbages on the front porch. I sat and watched them. Each dipped their proboscis into the water. They seemed to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Their movements were sluggish. These were not summer bees but winter bees, that the queen had laid for the sheer purpose of surviving the upcoming season. The summer bees were all gone. Their lifespan was only around six weeks. Unlike their sisters, these winter bees could survive for a few months.
Chill has begun to set in and the bees will not be doing much exploring or working outside of the hives until warmer days arrive in the spring. Here on Cape Cod, it is essential to winterize your hives to help ensure their survival during the coldest months of the year. A couple of weeks ago, I did just that. I got them ready for winter.
I removed the queen excluders, the honey supers, and shrank the hives back down to two full deeps of honey. Just below the inner covers, I added a 2 inch shim to each hive and placed a five pound block of fondant right directly centered upon the frames in the upper most deep. This will serve as a food reserve for the bees. Sometimes entire hives of bees perish in the winter from starvation. It is just terrible to see this, especially when it can be prevented. I also slid in a popsicle stick in the back of each hive on top of the inner cover to allow to excess moisture and humidity to escape the hives. Luckily, the fondant will also absorb excess moisture too.
Next, I made sure that the mouse guards were present at the lower entrances. Last year, I made my own with a bit of hardware cloth folded in half. I had plenty left over from the chicken coop. They worked out wonderfully.
The bees will now only leave from the hives on warmer days that reach into the high fortys. On those days, they will emerge quickly from the hive for cleansing flights. As they will not eliminate their waste inside of the hive. One chilly days they will cluster tightly around the queen, creating a ball of bees. As the days, warm and chill, this cluster will break and move to feed.
I will not be checking in on the bees now until a warmer day in late winter next year. My fingers are crossed that all three hives survive.
PS. For those of you wondering why no pollen patties? I don’t use them because of small hive beetles.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest