So you’ve made it through the year (so far) with your new hive. You kept it from swarming, thwarted the pests away and brought their mite counts to a sustainable level. Great! Now comes your final and most important test. Winter! Much like any problem in beekeeping, the severity of this issue depends on a lot of factors. Most important is location, location, location. Where is your hive and what’s the climate like there. All this to say, the advice I give in this blogpost is meant for people in the southeastern US, which of course is where our apiary is located. While I do hold the belief that what’s advised here would be helpful to hives everywhere, I will not claim to understand the difficulties of maintaining a hive in places that are guaranteed to get at least one snow a year.
Did you have a couple supers on your hives in the springtime? Fantastic! Back in the spring, they definitely needed all that space. Now that it’s cooling down and their numbers are dwindling, they could use a fraction of what they were using in the warmer months. I see this a lot with hives in the wild where they start to shrink down to a size so small that the hive looks uninhabited, at least to the untrained eye. In fact the bees are clustering to the center of the hive to keep warm, using the honey they gathered in the spring and summer to provide much needed energy now.
This first step is the most difficult to do but it is first as it needs to be done before anything else. If your hive is two or more stories, move the bees down to a single box. I often find that the bees start to naturally move upwards as it gets colder so it may be as simple as removing the bottom box, especially if that space has no honey or brood in it. If you find that both boxes are being used by the bees but aren’t being filled out completely, take the time on a warmer day to move all the frames that are being used to a single deep. Just like any other hive, make sure that the cluster with brood is in the center and the food frames are on the outer edges of the hive.
Insulation & Moisture Resistance
Next step is by far the easiest. All you’ll need is:
Eco Foil or really any bubble insulation, preferably two-ply
Insulation foam 1-2”
Both of these will need to be cut to the size of your hive. What I do is take a spare inner cover and use that for my dimensions. Once you have both pieces, start by placing the Eco Foil underneath the inner cover. This will be the main insulation material. Next place the insulation foam in between the inner and outer cover. This will provide insulation as well but will also serve as a barrier to the cold and thus keep condensation from collecting under the inner/outer covers.
You shouldn’t be a stranger to this practice by now. Little brood in the hive makes this the best time to treat for mites. My personal favorite is oxalic acid vapor as it can moves all through the hive without the bees having to move the treatment around. This can be administered using a variety of different tools though, most are not cheap but they are effective. If you decide to use something else just be mindful that they might have a temperature scale for effectiveness. In general you don’t want to use something that requires contact from the bees in order to treat them as the bees typically are not moving around the hive as much during this time.
Once you've got all this managed you can finally take a breath and enjoy (or not enjoy) not having to think about your bees for a while! Remember, they don't want to be disturbed much this time of year so give them plenty of space to keep their homes warm.