Preparing Honey Bees For Winter

| 10/30/2015 2:27:00 PM

RachelWinterizing Top Bar Hives

Helping bees close up shop for the winter is one of my seasonal chores. This year my husband even helped! I am really proud of him; he has always been supportive of my bee habit and loves to sing the praises of bees, but never really wanted to get too close for fear of getting stung. He even winterized a hive all by himself! One step closer to being a big happy alternative beekeeping family.

I have two Kenyan Style Top Bar Hives (or kTBH) at my parents' house so we decided we should have taco night, the boys would get Gramie and Grampy time and I would get my bees hunkered down for winter.

The process to do two hives probably takes a whole 30 minutes from start to finish. You need your hive tools, I keep them all in a tool box. Specifically, a hive tool or small pry bar (I used a flat head screwdriver since my hive tool grew legs and walked off), bee brush, stapler, 1/4-inch hardware cloth cut to the size of your TBH, a bowl, knife, and straw.

How do you know its time to winterize your hives? The flowers in your area will tell you when to close up shop. (Just as they tell us to open up for the season.) For those of us in Southern Michigan and surrounding areas the last big bloom of the year comes from the golden rod. Stinky stinky golden rod. Your hives might be a little putrid but still sweet smelling around this time of year. Start preparing your gear. The first frost will happen soon, so be listening to your local stations for frost warnings. After the frost hits, pick the next warm day and head to your hives and get to work.

You may be wondering what the deal is with the hardware cloth. Beehives tend to be an irresistible place for “visitors” to overwinter too. The bees keep their queen warm and toasty by clustering around her all winter long, moving along the comb eating honey. A warm place with easy food is the perfect place for mice to snuggle into, and when you have mice you can kiss your bees goodbye. The hardware cloth gets stapled to the lid and the sides of the hive blocking off any mouse sized entrances.

11/5/2015 11:29:15 PM

Thanks for the reply! I just started looking seriously at top bar hives this fall after our latest bee club meeting. I had previously written them off, however, a couple of people were discussing how easy they were make and take care of which caught my attention. I will double check but I think both keepers were treating for mites this fall. One had just started this year and the other keeper had 30 top bar hives. I know the larger top bar keeper has to deal with commercial people coming in to pollinate the local farms and I assume there are additional pressures there. I have to say you are atypical of most beekeepers. Well, at least the ones near Toledo as I have yet to talk to one that doesn't treat for something. I am not sure if your experience is because of the top bars, small cell, bee genetics, forage or location pressures as I would think they are all playing a part. I am assuming you feel the top bar/minimal intrusion is the largest part of your success? Just know I am totally envious of your bee keeping skills and experience so far! We will definitely have to get a visit in next year sometime. Thanks for the great article and I look forward to reading more! P.S. I always heard it was ten beekeepers and 20 different answers...

11/3/2015 5:59:29 PM

NWOTim, I agree and disagree with you all at the same time. You know they say "ask ten bee keepers the same question and you will get ten different answers". How true right?! I agree that occasional peeking in is a good idea. But if you have never kept bees in top bar hives the lack of effort required can be shocking! I have kept bees in top bar hives for four years and have never had issues with mites or other parasites. Mice will always be an issue. In fact I haven't talked to a top bar keeper yet that has had varroa. If you have had a different experience, I would actually love to hear about it! A neat feature of a top bar is that they have observation windows, so you can observe them for as long and how ever often you wish without upsetting their delicate hive scent and activities. One of my friends who has kept top bar for 8 or more years has actually invited a state inspector out to his bee yard to inspect his hives after he told my friend that he didn't believe him about being pest free. The inspector sat at the hives all day and never found an issue! He never would have beloved him otherwise. In short there are many approaches to keeping bees and none of them are wrong! Like you said every beekeeper has to find what works best for them! Very true! I suggested to nebraskadave top bar hives because they really are set it and forget it. Honestly... I only open my hives two times a year, in the spring to open them and In the fall to winterized. I check them through the window several times a year though. My approach vastly differs from yours but I bet we could learn a lot from eachother :) Another thing NWOTim... I am assuming that the NWO stands for Northwest Ohio?! If so we are not far from each other, and if you ever get the itch to check out some top bar hives in action if you have never seen them before I think we could work something out. Happy beekeeping!

11/3/2015 10:17:27 AM

Please be aware that not inspecting your hives can lead to a very sad experience when you find all your ladies dead or gone. There are many things that can cause your bees harm and taking a peak to keep on top of mites, diseases and other issues is very necessary in my opinion. However, over inspection can be a bad thing too so each beekeeper needs to find what works for them in their area depending on the local threats. I wasn't quite sure what "set it and forget it" might mean to different people.

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