Much more needs to be talked about ventilation and humidity. Cold damp hives are a winter hive killer as much as Varrao. Moisture and winter condensation in the hive will lead to mold and Nosema at the very least. Sequim is fortunate for its drier climate but in Port Angeles, I think the biggest winter kill will be related to moisture, not starvation.
Too many hives are not insulated or under ventilated and water collecting under the hive’s lid will drop down on the cluster that is trying to keep the queen alive. Wet bees chill easily, Chilled bees weaken and your colony will die.
Putting glass or snooping Plexiglas viewing panels on top of a super will build up dripping condensation. Both my recent swarms came from hives that had these viewing panels. Both parties knew next to nothing about beekeeping – nor did the first who had weeds and grass growing up on the ground-based beehive.
There are too many hives do not even sit on a MINIMAL one-foot stand or are positioned improperly to go through winter. Hives need to breathe and as in a garden, air movement is a must. Hives need those stands and preferably be on a slope where you have air drainage and where sunshine can dry out the hive. The first swarm I collected this year was simply plopped on the ground and had grass and weeds all around it.
Those entrances need to be OPEN to the air and to the sunshine. Mold and yeast spores are always in the air around us and they will thrive on anything that provides moisture and food.
Hives should always face southeast so that any winter sun that arrives will help dry them out. I would never place them under trees of any kind. Hopefully, such placement will dry out the moisture before mold can get a foothold. Opening up the entrance blocks fully on warm days will also help your bees do their housecleaning chores. Moldy bottom boards should be tossed or chloroxed before being used – they are cheap enough to build.
Some use bubble wrap or black tar paper to wrap their hives. I will leave that up to you. Personally, I think all they do is to provide habitat for earwigs and other insects that may contribute to more insect feces and mold issues. I suggest using a top Warre insulating wood chip box with a screen to absorb the hive moisture. A weighted roof with some 40 lbs. or rocks or bricks on top of that. This same insulating box (or an inner hive cover) could also be provided with a small hole on the sunniest side to provide further air movement.
If you live in an area with constant moisture-bearing winds you could easily put up a sloping wood shield on the windward side of the hive. The hive should also be one inch higher in the back than the front so that rain blowing in could drain out by gravity. Should we have a snow event do not forget your hives – snow, hail or ice should be quickly scraped off the entrance so air can enter the hive.
Waiting until it hardens from the heat inside will make the job more difficult. Another reason to consider a ventilation hole near the top of your colony.
—- Finally, a few thoughts on winter and TORPOR. (dormancy of a colony)
Rather than knocking on the hive to see if they are active one should make sure that the hive is in a wind protected and sunny location. Preferably an insulated location. One can use hay bales, a secondary wood box to envelop the sides and most of all provide some overhead insulation with a secondary hive cover. Underneath, gets tricky as putting any hay type material under a hive is certain to encourage mice and voles.
That said, wind protection and insulation will save bee energy and stockpiles of food. One knock on that hive may force a response that lasts hours and will send the temp up from 50 to 80 in no time. That means a lot of food in calories is used up. Do that weekly and you will kill your hive in no time. My question is what is wrong with putting your ear on the hive?
Shim up the entrance and reduce the opening to 2 inches. This will reduce cold airflow and even driven rain from entering the hive, fewer bees wasted on guard duty. Remove on warm dry days and LISTEN to your hive – do NOT knock.
In really cold areas you might be tempted to wrap them. Covering the hive with black plastic is IMO a mistake. Don’t! Black roofing paper would be preferable. Use some use duct tape to secure. It’s not plastic so no worries on moisture. Never forget to weight down the TOP with rocks or bricks – a blown away roof is the last thing you need.
A last thought on WOOD. Improperly and overly painted inner hive boxes are probably my greatest peeve. IF you purchase such a box please sand the inside down and leave it ROUGH!
Better yet, build your own or buy from someone using Cedar, Cypress or Redwood. Cedar as a softwood is unusual as it does not absorb moisture from the air like other softwoods do. Dry wood is warmer, is less heat conducive (insulates better) and is less likely to have condensation form on the wood. This is important.
Cedar by nature is weather resistant and does not require the protection of paint. Painted hives trap moisture.
Even during swarming season one of the trees that feral bees seem to love is cedar – so there must be something about the smell or nature of the wood that they are attracted too. This even applies to when I am working with cedar and have a lot of wood shavings about.
Leave the interior of your hives rough sawed. This inner side will generally be propolized by your bees, helping the colony’s immunity to disease. Painted inner sides prevent this. The inside of TOPS or inner hive covers should never be painted.
Member of the North Olympic Beekeepers’ Association.
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