Winter Where You Are
by Jim Tew
What you can do
The bees are collecting water and it’s a solvent for something the bees really want. I’ve seen bees oddly foraging on compost leaves. I’m interested to see if a more natural nest succumbs at the same rate, same time, same way that we artificially manage. This line drawing was the only thing I could find of where we eagerly took all of these things out and transferred them over to new boxes. The USDA put out two or three brochures telling you how to make that transfer happen. We spent a week moving those boxes over to more modern equipment, and not a single photo was taken. This happened by between Langstroth and AI root and changing it out to be commercially manufactured. It’s far from perfect. What happened was there was uncontrollable mold; brood like I’d never seen before. It was my last effort at cellar wintering. Packing hives as a real recommendation was gone around 1950. Wrapping hives is still somewhat done. Prominent people, E.F. Philips, would write whole books on insulating value of double-walled hives. They were intricately made (about 5/16th of an inch thick) and it’s got boxed joints on the edges, filled with wood chaff and newspaper. E.F. Phillips was the apiarist of bee culture of the US Department of Agriculture — you couldn’t get more official.
There’s a clear polarization between the packers and the non-packers. The non-packers are adamant that that black paper keeps the cold in on the occasional day when the bees could fly. The others argued that the damage and the stores could be saved by having the colonies packed. My good friend from Alabama actually experimented with a paint that could change color. It would turn black at 40 degrees and white at 86.
In pre-mite days, bees were everywhere. They were as common as flies. If your bees died in the winter, you could just get more. There was a lack of impetance. No mites, no HHBs, scant noxzema concerns (we didn’t know we should be concerned) and if we were, we didn’t know what to do. Bees in a box became our way of thinking. Now, bees in a box are really being challenged — by varroa, nutritional issues, pesticides, and chemical issues that we weren’t necessarily challenged with then like we are now. It’s almost like we’re back in the 30s again with bee heard and the care we should be giving them to keep the numbers where you want them.
One of the bee enthusiasts has given me a prototype of his idea: a heated bottom board. He’s an electrical engineer. It’s sampling the air 300 times a second. It will kick itself from a minimum to a maximum. He wanted me to see what would happen here. It’s moisture absorbing, potentially doubles as a moving screen, and it’s economical to do.
Winter feeding: take an empty deep or super, lay it on top of a sheet of newspaper, lightly itemize it, pour granulated sugar on it, cut a knife hole through that sugar, I pack newspaper in the rest of it. That hungry cluster will move up through that newspaper and eat that sugar using is what I assume is metabolic sugar. It’s a way to feed bees granulated sugar during the winter. I got this method from a beekeeper in Ohio. Go into winter with a healthy colony. It may be confusing or ambiguous, but they will die by March. Feed the colonies before they need it. Position the food storage properly or they’ll move up to the side and rarely back down. Protect the colony from the weather — you decide. Provide for upper ventilation because if you don’t get some of it out, they will drown. Bees have no business, at this point, where it’s really cold, like in upper Michigan or at all into Canada. They too are learning. Healthy bees, plenty of food, protected location; just do the basics. Try as you can to keep so many of them from dying. The issue is food and varroa mite control.