Oct. 20, 2022

Winter Is Coming - Winter Prep (096)

Winter Is Coming - Winter Prep (096)

When you’ve been keeping bees for decades, sometimes you do things because that’s the way you’ve always done them, right? But the world continues to change. It has to keep up with whatever is going on wherever it’s happening. And because the...

When you’ve been keeping bees for decades, sometimes you do things because that’s the way you’ve always done them, right? But the world continues to change. It has to keep up with whatever is going on wherever it’s happening. And because the world is changing, every minute of every day, doing the "same ole same ole" just because that’s what you’ve always done isn’t for maybe isn’t the best choice.

Beehive insulation is one of those things that maybe bees need, or don’t. And what about insulation for a summer hive? If they need insulation in the winter to keep warmer, why don’t they need insulation in the summer to help stay cool?

If you are going to insulate, what do you use? How much, and when do you apply it? And if you aren’t going to insulate, do you do anything to make winter better for the bees inside? Cool and damp may be the way to go say some honey bee researchers. Warm and dry say others.

If you are losing bees each winter, you’ve got to change what you are doing and when you are doing it to give your bees a chance to make it to next spring. Food, water, ventilation, insulation, varroa control. All are important in a changing world, and in a changing beehive.

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Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 96 – Winter Is Coming - Winter Prep


Kim: Well, Jim, I heard it on the news last night. The weather guy said there's a chance for frost in low-lying areas, you may want to consider covering your tomato plants. He didn't say and your bees, but he might as well have, because that's what I think of the first time every year I hear that warning. I went out and I'm looking for the stuff that I need to get my bees ready for winter. Of course, half of it's missing. It's not on the shelf where I put it, I know I put it there. Somebody moved it, I know somebody moved it.

Jim: [chuckles] Right. Forgetful old man.

Kim: It's time to start thinking about getting ready for winter. We've talked about this in the past and the thing is that the winter this year is going to be different than the winter last year and what you do about it. That's why I'm looking at this all fresh again.

Jim: I completely agree. Every winter is winter, but every winter's a different winter. The big dearth.


Jim: This is what we've spent all spring, summer working on getting ready for is bees going into this long quiet period.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum-

Jim: And I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: -and we're going to talk about winter again. We've talked about it in the past, but things have changed. The way things happen in winter have changed and we're going to look at some of that today.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Jim: Every year we go through this, don't we? I had to look back and we've talked about it before, but every year it's a preparatory process.

Kim: Every year there's new information. Things have been discovered, equipment has changed, there's just new stuff out there that you have to consider, "Am I going to do this? Is this meant for me, or I am as well-off doing things the way I've been doing them for 40 years?"

Jim: Well, let me start it out. I read a guy who boldly said that bees don't freeze, they starve. How much honey do you leave, Kim? How do you know when you've left enough honey?

Kim: That's always a good question. Every book you can read will give you a weight and of course you're out there in the middle of nowhere and you pick up that box full of honey and it weighs how much? It's heavy, but is it heavy enough or should I put more on or do I have more to put on or do I need to feed? I'll tell you what my rule of thumb is, and it's worked pretty well for me, I leave a box on top of my brood box. I winter in three eight, frame medium supers for my cluster.

Jim: Three eight frame mediums, so you've got a tall skinny hive, more or less?

Kim: Yes, well, a lot of people do two deeps, two ten frame deeps. I use three eight frame mediums and then I have on top of that-- I try to have on top of that the equivalent of two mediums full of honey and that gives me about somewhere between 65 and 80 pounds. I'm comfortable with 65 and I'm really comfortable with 80 pounds of honey sitting on top of that.

Jim: Is that honey or is that gross colony weight? Because you've got five mediums stacked on top of each other, right?

Kim: No, that's honey, between 65 and 80 pounds of honey.

Jim: Now I'm off the subject. Do you have upper entrances on wintering colonies that tall?

Kim: Good question. See, I don't do that. I've got my colony situated so that they don't get hardly any wind in the winter. I got wind breaks on three sides, so I don't get much wind. I'm not too worried about them blowing over, but I've got them propped up anyway.

Jim: Okay. Well, I'm still traditional. I'm trying not to be, but I'm still traditional. I keep bees in two deeps and I normally leave a full super on and sometimes they need it, sometimes they're up there, sometimes they're not. Normally I improvise some upper entrance. You do close off the entrances, don't you? Or do you just run it the three eights entrance across the bottom board?

Kim: Well, I close off most of it. I leave an inch or so on one side, but there's a bottom entrance that's open all winter.

Jim: Well, I improvised an upper entrance just in case they're up there. I honestly can't tell that they use it, it's their decision. It's small, it's an inch or two wide and it's on top of that second deep between the second deep and my top super. I'm just thinking, if I were a bee and I was up in that super and I wanted to take a cleansing flight, I would go out that entrance right there instead of going down to the bottom board and going out that way, but I don't know that that's what bees do. It's just available to them, so an upper entrance or not, you have to decide. I use upper entrances, you don't.

Kim: Like I said, that's the way I've been doing it since I started eight frame and it seems to work, he says carefully, because I still lose colonies and my colonies-- The one thing is my colonies, I say this carefully, they never starve because there's always-- I have honey on every colony every spring that's left. Sometimes they didn't get up to it. It is a way up there, if they get down too far and they can't break cluster to get back, they may starve, but it's not because there wasn't food, it's because of where they were.

Jim: Well, Kim, are you describing beekeeper mismanagement?

Kim: [chuckles] Yes, sometimes.

Jim: Because that, [crosstalk] I know what you're talking about. You can have honey in a colony and have bees starve because the honey was maybe three frames over. Here we go again because that means if you're going what, open that colony up in the winter? They always take a dim view of that. For those of you in cold climate, that you're trying to open the colony up, they're flying out.  Every bee that flies out is toast. They're never going to make it back on those really cold days and I'm trying to manipulate it. Sometimes in your defense, the bees just eat the honey that's near them and then they're unable to get to the honey that's not quite there available to them.

Kim: Is that because they got cold? Is that because the cluster was so tight and the inside of the hive was so cold, they couldn't break the cluster to go up and get it? Was that because-- and I can sit here and say, "Is that because," for a day.

Jim: Right. When you're saying this, I'm sitting here thinking inside that dark hive everything's a mystery to me. I'm cold. It's cold out in the bee yard. The bees don't want me to open that colony. I just don't really have a lot of way of knowing what's going on in there. I end up doing a lot of guessing and some years I guess better than others.

Kim: Do you wrap your colonies in anything, insulate them on the outside with anything?

Jim: I haven't done that in a while. For a while the bee industry commercial providers had corrugated waxed boards and you put those things around and then there was this tar paper wrap, the building construction paper from building supply companies. I knew commercial beekeepers here in Ohio who wrapped every one of those colonies in very specific Christmas gift kind of wrapping techniques, folding, bending, twisting, stapling, punching. They had everything down to a fine art, but do I? That's just me trying to get to the answer to your question, Kim. No, I don't wrap.

Kim: Well, I think this might be a good chance to let our sponsor weigh in here for a second.

Jim: Okay.


Betterbee: Now that the honey harvest is over, it's time to think about winter. It's important to make sure your bees have enough stores to get them through to spring. Visit betterbee.com/syrup to learn how to make your own two to one sugar syrup for fall feeding and to shop for a hive top or in hive feeder to make sure all your bees get fed. Remember to stop feeding sugar syrup once your daily temperatures consistently dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Visit betterbee.com to learn all about fall feeding. Better Bee, your partners in better beekeeping.

Kim: Well, I try to get mine wrapped every year and sometimes, of course, the world gets ahead of me and I don't get them wrapped until I have to go out in the snow. I don't insulate them in terms of trying to keep them warm. I use a plastic that's got a 16th of an inch of insulation on one side and I put that on and just staple it to the boxes. Some foam on the inner cover, a sheet of foam with a hole in the middle to accommodate the hole in the inner cover and then the cover over that and two bricks on top of that. I've reduced my entrance down below and that's it. I don't insulate, I wrap but I wrap for-- Like I said, I got good windbreaks, that helps a lot.

Jim: You're almost confusing me. You're not wrapping for insulation, right? Did I understand you?

Kim: Right. I'm wrapping for ventilation control.

Jim: For ventilation control. I guess I've got to ask you to go with that. What ventilation are you controlling, is that the hive air current moving through the hive from the entrance?

Kim: Not just from the entrance, from between supers. I got a stack of five supers up there and my equipment isn't brand new. I know they propolize the inside, but usually, I just put on three supers not long before I wrap them with this stuff. I don't know if they're sealed or not, it makes me feel better and maybe that's all it's doing.

Jim: Well, that's important that you feel good about what you're doing. I agree with that concept, but if I did wrap my colonies, I think I would be doing it for insulation. Where are you and I going differently here?

Kim: I'm guessing that bees have been clustering in winters long before we started trying to protect them from the elements outside and they pretty much figured it out. They're in that box, that box has got what, R-factor of a house or something?

Jim: I was thinking when you were saying that it's low. I thought that some of the research had shown that those punky trees provided more R-value than that and had more insulatory qualities both summer and winter. Year-round it was insulated.

Kim: I don't know that. I know people are looking at it and some are going in one direction, some are going in another direction, ventilation, and condensation and all of that but Langstroth in 1860 came up with a wooden box and we've been keeping bees in winter and wooden boxes ever since and we've still got bees.

Jim: Sounds like I'm arguing with you, Kim. I'm not, I'm trying to think here because we're doing this spontaneously. We also have a 42% winter loss on average, don't we? If it always worked, will it always work?

Kim: I don't think that 42% winter loss is strictly bees freezing to death in the top super without food. I think there's a lot more going on. All of the viruses that are floating around, Varroa mites and the viruses that they carry and that they're spreading from colony to colony and bee to bee inside. I think if you remove Varroa and its consequences from the equation, we'd go back to 10 or 15% of the most winter losses. That is pure speculation.

Jim: I like that though. I love that speculation. You've opened the Varroa Pandora box because I was going to ask you at some proper point here, have you done your fall/early winter mite treatment which is now a requirement?

Kim: Absolutely. I'm not going to say I'm religious about that, but it comes close. I'm a firm believer in the saying take care of the bees that go in the winter and my bees that go in the winter, I think out of a hundred bees, you might find a half a mite.

Jim: That's good. We've got food stores, we've got the entrance reduced, and I'm doing that-- don't want to get off the subject but doing that for ventilation control and to keep mites out, we may have an upper entrance or we may not, and we're wrapping or we're insulating. We're to that point. The last thing we've discussed is that you've got to do something, listeners, about Varroa one way or the other. If you don't use chemicals, don't, but you've got to keep those bees knocked down because a good friend of mine, Kim Flottum, always says, "Take your losses in the fall." Let's go with that, Kim, what do you mean by that?

Kim: If your grandparents are sick, they're not going to be able to take care of your parents. Your parents are going to be behind the eight ball by the time you come along and by the time you come along, there's nobody left to take care of you. I want my grandparents to be healthy so I go back to the last two weeks in August and that's when I'm looking at taking care of the bees. Those are the bees that are taking care of the bees that are going into winter. I'm looking at the grandparents back there. That's when I start my mite control.

Jim: That's a sobering analogy. I'm sitting here all gloomy and depressed now because I don't have my grandparents or my parents anymore, so who's going to look after me?

Kim: [chuckles] That's the sequence of my mite control. I start in late August and by late October I'm pretty much done.

Jim: I like your notion because of a different reason, I take my “mess” in the fall instead of having to take my “mess” in the spring with dead, moldy, wet bees. Trying to bang them off the comb, clean this mess up, salvage my equipment and get bees back on it. It's actually easier to make a hard decision, "No, they're not going to make it," and make that decision in the fall. Either (probably) combine those colonies and then get a colony better situated to get through the winter and then in theory, in a perfect world, Kim, next spring, I'll split that colony and I'm back to where I started with the same colony number but I didn't try to winter them over.

Kim: Take your losses in the fall, that's the way to do it.

Jim: Kim, you want to talk about this ventilation thing some more? What would you say, an end this topic right now? You want to talk about that in another segment and review some of the things other people are saying about ventilation?

Kim: I think we don't have enough time today and it needs more attention than that. Let's do that next time.

Jim: Kim, on a totally different subject, I'd like to tell the listeners that each of these discussions has a written transcript on our webpage and if you're so inclined and you feel the need and you can't understand my accent or a whatever, everything that Kim and I have said here is in written format on our Honey Bee Obscurawebpage.

Kim: There's also the chance there that if you've got a question about what we're talking about, you can ask us that question, leave it on the webpage and that webpage will send us an email and we'll be able to get back to you.

Jim: I feel like I should go stack firewood or something since I've talked to you and we talked about my ancestry and everything else, you've left me in a foul spirit. Let's talk about ventilation some other time and see if we can come up with some thoughts on that too. I always enjoy talking to you.

Kim: All right, been a good time. Talk to you next time.

Jim: All right. Bye-bye.

[00:17:20] [END OF AUDIO]