Kentucky Woman, and Winter

November…Early this month in Florida it was 80 degrees, sunny and honey bees were gathering pollen in the wild parts, and honey in the orange groves. Ohio’s not Florida, but this year it’s not too bad … in fact it’s been uncommonly warm most days…warmer than the last few years as I recall…but then, we so often in life have a selective memory…do you remember, really, how cold, hot, wet, dry it was three or five years ago in November…no, neither do I. Be we think we do, don’t we….

Actually, my time sense always focuses on Thanksgiving as the first real winter weather here. In Wisconsin it was earlier…mid-October or so when the first snow hit, hard freezes were common, and there’d be ice on the puddles every morning. Here, that’s early December behavior…It’s slower in Ohio to get to winter…and that’s a real good thing for me.

So it was a warm and windy day in early November that we wrapped colonies. I’d wanted to get this done more than a month ago, but time, tide and bee meetings always take priority this time of year, and it wasn’t till now we got around to it. A friend, Tammy Horn from Kentucky was visiting. Tammy’d never wrapped colonies…winter isn’t too hard in her part of the world so wrapping was never on her radar. She was good help and asked questions…I like that in a beekeeper when we’re working together…not too proud to say she doesn’t know, and not too shy to ask how. A good combination. In case you don’t recognize the name, Tammy is the author of Bees In America, and recently, BeeConomy. And she’s involved with all that coal mine reclamation land going on in her state. She’s making a difference for people, bees and the land she lives on. She shines with her own kind of light. So there we were …Kath, me, Tammy, the bees and some real wild November wind, all hanging on.

We wrapped them…all but one…in the lightly insulated black plastic wrap you can get from B&B Honey Farm. I’d bought those wraps already cut to fit a stack of 10 frame boxes…even though most of what we have are eight framers. We wound the extra around the side and stapled it into the side of the super…sometimes using a few extra staples where the insulation bulged or warped, so it was snug everywhere. We left about an inch of the wrap sticking above the top of the top super and folded it down, then stapled that to the corners of the inner cover so the covering box would sit even higher off the inner cover…it helps with moving out the moist air from below. There’d be a quarter of an inch or so of extra space. It keeps things dry and moving…it’s what I want for ventilation and warm air. And what do you think of that see-through inner cover?

Once the wrap’s on we use one of those collapsible heavy-duty, heavily waxed, corrugated boxes to slip over the whole to add another layer of warm. They’re made for 10 frame boxes, but an 8 framer with the wrap is just the right size for a close, but not tight fit. I get them from Mann Lake, and 30 years ago, when I was working for the USDA we tested these for wintering in Wisconsin. They worked there…and they work here. They slip over the hive, but they don’t fit over the telescoping outer cover. So, we remove the outer cover leaving just the inner cover on, with the hole open. Warm air rises through the colony, exits the colony through the inner cover hole, then dissipates all over the inside of the folded cover of the box. There’s not a problem with dripping condensate because the moist air is spread all over the inside of the box, and leaks out of the cracks of the only-folded box top.

And here’s the rub. As far as I can see, there hasn’t been one ounce of winter management research done by all the scientists in all the world since then. We’ve forgotten how to winter in the cold part of the world. Varroa rules when it comes to research money. DNA stuff rules when it comes to research money.  Mostly, science doesn’t care about how to keep bees…am I right? And I’ll admit, colony health is important…viruses, Varroa, nutrition, damaged and poorly raised queens, new diseases…they all deserve some attention. But really, noting new in 30 years for wintering. Or swarm control, or queen production, or honey production, or spring management, or migratory beekeeping…Thirty years.

Well, after the entrance reducers get put on next weekend our colonies will be pretty much set…they all have a lot of honey in the right place, new and seemingly good queens, lots of bees, stored pollen and lots of pollen sub fed right up to now so all those bees are fat bees, and now finally some thermal winterwear. This past August we took care of the bees that took care of the bees that are in those hives right now. That colony health memo is newer than 30 years though. We’ll see if we did it right.