Its been a busy few weeks. The honey has been harvested from my local hives and this last weekend we traveled to some hives we have out of town. There I put on a class and harvested a small amount of honey from some newly established hives. Our demonstration included use of an old hand crank extractor that had been converted to a variable speed motorized extractor. We also demonstrated the crush and strain method. When I was first starting out a wise old beekeeper once told me not to spend the hundreds of dollars it takes to purchase an extractor until I knew for sure that beekeeping was what I wanted to do. Its good advice and I recommend it to anyone just getting into beekeeping. I still use the crush and strain method today as I enjoy this authentic way of obtaining my honey.
This time of year, (at least in the northern climates) your bees will likely have kicked out all the drones (I watched one being tossed out just the other day) and have filled all cracks (and everywhere else it would seem) with propolis in preparation for winter. When temps drop below 54 to 57 the bees will from a cluster around the queen in the brood chamber. The cluster of workers maintains a temp of about 92 degrees. The bees eat while in the cluster and move around as a cluster. When temps drop below 40 to 45 they are unable to move about but stay warm in the cluster by shivering their wings. Bees wont defecate in the hive and will hold off until it is warm enough (45 to 50) to make cleansing flights. (Another reason you don’t want chemicals in your hive.) The queen will stop laying for a period of a few weeks in the winter. The workers live much longer (months instead of weeks) in the winter because they are not flying very much.
If you find your bees do not have enough stores for winter (at least 40 to 50 pounds of honey) you can feed them a 2-1 mixture of sugar to water. As long as the weather is warm they will be able to take this in a store it. There is a recipe of essential oils at the bottom that helps with hive health and controls mites.
If your hive is in an exposed or windy site, you might consider moving it against a south facing wall where the wall will give off heat during the night. You could also shield the hive from the prevailing wind by putting up some protection with hay bales. Some people wrap their hives in tar paper which gets warm in the sun and helps to heat the hive. I’m not convinced this is necessary and some folks can even get into trouble doing this by closing up the hive to tightly so their is not enough air flow to remove moisture from the hive. Sometime they also end up blocking the entrance to the hive. A prudent middle ground for those who want to use tar paper would be to place a couple layers of it across the top of the hive, held down with a rock.
You will also want to tilt your hive forward so that moisture which accumulates on the inner cover does not drip down onto the bees. This condensation dripping onto your bees will kill them. To accomplish this place blocks of wood that are 3/4 of an inch to one inch thick under the back of your hive. Another thing that helps with ventilation is to glue popsicle sticks to the underside of the corners of your inner cover. This allows a gentle flow of air through the hive that will assist in removing the moisture that is generated when your bees consume their honey stores over the course of the winter.
Finally, add a mouse guard. Mice love the warm, protected environment of a hive, but you wont appreciate the kind of damage they can do.
Below is the recipe for mite control and hive health.
Concentrate Mixture – To one cup of water add 1 teaspoon of wintergreen essential oil and 3/4 of a teaspoon of Tea Tree oil. The wintergreen will kill mites and the tea tree oil works as an anti-bacterial. (Mites bring bacteria into the hive with them and cause disease) Blend this mixture in a blender on low speed for 5 minutes. Then add the concentrate to a half gallon container and fill with water.
Feed your bees a 2-1 sugar water mixture for 3 to 4 weeks (you don’t need to have feed in front of them day in and day out, just feed a couple times a week). When you mix your sugar water add one cup of your essential oil mixture (from your half gallon container) to one gallon of sugar water mix.