It’s a common misconception that all bees hibernate in winter. I can’t speak for all species, but honey bees do not, although they become much less active. (See link for a description of their winter habits.
This will be our fourth winter as beekeepers, and every year we’ve changed up our winterizing process, trying to find the perfect tactic for our area.
The first year, we wrapped our sole hive with a “Vinyl Coated Hive Wrap” from Better Bee. They survived the winter, so the next year, we did something similar, sliding a piece of foam insulation between the hives to create a common wall for better insulation, and wrapping them together. (You can see the foam insulation, reused this year, in the above photo.)
The Engineer also created a shelter to keep them dry, which I mentally dubbed “La Hacienda de la Apis Mellifera.”
They survived again, so we repeated the process in 2019. This time, however, we had a nuc from a successful split we were trying to overwinter.
To accomodate them, The Engineer built the “Pink Palace,” basically a smaller version of the foam structure above.
All three hives perished, though the Pink Palace survived the longest. Our Bee Inspector said it was likely due to the effects of Varroa, but we treat for the mites regularly, so I’m not sure I agree (although he certainly is a more experienced beekeeper, so maybe I just don’t want to admit we didn’t protect them enough).
Still, we rallied and began again in spring with an Ohio-bred nucleus hive and an over-wintered queen, as well as a package of Saskatraz bees shipped from California.
Both hives thrived, which meant splitting them to prevent swarming. One split (the one from Buzzers’ Roost II, the Ohio hive) “took,” creating their own queen, but the other never managed to make new royalty. We ended up combining them with NewBees (the split from Buzzers’).
So going into winter, we have three full-size hives.
Just before COVID became an issue, we attended the Ohio State Beekeepers’ conference (where once again we learned how little we know about beekeeping) and bought a quilt box.
This is basically a wood box (and there are many many designs available to build or buy), which is then filled with some kind of moisture-absorbing material. Wood shavings are a favorite, but I’ve also heard of people using crumpled newspaper.
Here’s a picture of our quilt box (taken from the side), which we’ve put on Buzzers’ Roost (II). Note the holes covered with screen to allow for ventilation.
Here’s a peek inside.
The Engineer repurposed the original Pink Palace to fit California Girls, so they have no outer cover, instead being surrounded by an igloo of insulating foam.
The NewBees setup is similar to past years, with a wrap, the inner cover, and foam insulation cut to size between the inner and outer covers.
Buzzers’ doesn’t need the foam because they have the quilt box.
We’ve done away with the Hacienda this year, though Buzzers’ and NewBees each have newly shaped metal overhangs (courtesy of The Engineer and his workshop) to help keep rain or snow melt from forming puddles on their front porch.
And here they are, all set for winter.
The forecast is for 8″-12″ of snow over the next 36 hours, which actually means the bees are probably better prepared than we are. 🙂
Addendum: One day later, the words “nick” and “time” come to mind.