Winter is officially here!! My apologies for the 6-month gap between postings; my other life now involves a startup manufacturing facility making thermal solar panels, and that has kept me busy and out of mischief. But I have met a few new friends recently who are interested in starting up a new colony, so I thought now would be a good time to try to catch up.
The weather service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for today here in the Reno, NV area, and my two colonies are hunkered down with plenty stores, ready for the onslaught. My brick ventilation system allows me to regulate the airflow up through the hive, by placing bricks in the space between the cinder blocks supporting the hives.
Both hives always have a small upper opening by virtue of a notch cut in the frame of the inner cover, together with a (deliberately) slightly oversize outer cover, oversized by a bee-space. By sliding the outer cover tight against the inner cover, the space is closed off, but by sliding the outer cover forward, it creates an opening to allow the air to flow through the hive and out.
This is especially important in the wet winter season, to prevent the accumulation of condensation, mildew, fungus, and all kinds of yucky stuff.
The bottom board is a screened IPM board with the screen open all winter. To keep the wind out when it’s cold, I use the brick system to keep the area under the hive open but more like a dead air space. The front and rear of the hives are supported by two (grey) cinder blocks. (See photo above, right.) The red bricks between them block the flow of cold air in the winter. In warmer weather, I remove the red bricks, providing more ventilation up through the screen bottom board.
I still have top feeders in place, but I suspect the syrup is frozen. Anyway, my guess is that the bees are so closely huddled together in the brood chamber right now, none of them are moving away from the family hearth to gather anything. Whatever stores they have nearby is what they have until it gets warmer – hopefully in a few weeks.
Preparing for Spring
Springtime is the peak time for honeybee activity. Early spring is when most of the neighborhood trees burst into bloom. And since a tree fills out in 3 dimensions, it only takes 3 or 4 neighborhood trees to equal an acre of bee forage. In the Reno, NV area, it all starts about mid-February, around Valentine’s Day. Our job right now is to get ready. When it starts, it comes on FAST.
This assumes you want to manage your bees for optimum honey production. If you, many beekeepers help stimulate brood-rearing early (starting in the late winter) so the population of the colony is high and lots of field workers are available when the spring bloom hits. That’s why I have a box of “pollen” patties ready to feed them, probably starting later next month. This step is not necessary for the health of the colony, its only goal is to stimulate brood production to take advantage of the early bloom, to maximize my honey crop. I mention this because different beekeepers have different styles, and a beekeeper with a more “natural” bent would skip this step.
Both of my colonies had a huge mite load when I checked last month, so I’ll be treating them with thymol (a thyme derivative) at the same time, being sure to terminate the treatment and feeding before the honey supers go on.