My hives have survived another winter, well some of them. Yes, it was one of those winters. The kind that makes you question why you are still a beekeeper. Even though it was one of the most mild winters on record my hive loss surpassed the dreaded fifty percent mark. I thought I had done all the right things last season, good honey crop, got the mite treatments on at the right time, extra feeding for the light hives throughout the fall, but by November cluster sizes were crap.
Natural beekeeping is a recent buzz word in the industry. Natural beekeeping, a fluid term, roughly refers to minimal disturbance and manipulation to the hive. This system attempts to create a natural environment for the bees where they are left to their own devices to survive – nothing added and only a small amount of excess honey taken. Strategies are put in place to limit or altogether eliminate chemicals and antibiotics from the hive. In some extremes, natural beekeeping forgoes supplemental feeding of sugar syrup, use of foundation and moving hives to assist in pollinating commercial crops. But, are natural beekeeping practices the answer for all beekeepers?
Sorting out equipment from dead hives is a necessary evil for a beekeeper – one of my least favorite tasks. Most of your equipment can be reused and will save you time and money as you prepare the equipment for the upcoming spring spits or package hives you will be adding to your operation. Below are a few guidelines I have used over the years which I’ve found very helpful.
My hives are scheduled to ship out on Saturday headed for California. I have been a little anxious to take a peek. I haven’t checked them since they were insulated and wrapped two months ago. I was quite happy with what I discovered.
In recent years there has been a growing concern about harmful chemical residues finding there way into the wax and pollen in the hive. Beehives are exposed to these chemicals by many past and present treatments for varroa mites, as well as the bees returning to the hive carrying pollen laced with pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. It’s not known how long this contamination will last in the frames and to what extent it hinders the health of the bees. Many beekeepers are adopting the practice of yearly comb rotation, thus gradually removing the contaminated frames from the hive.
One recent survey, however, has shown that being too aggressive with comb rotation can increase the chances of winter loss by as much as ten percent.
For beekeepers who live in northern climates with winter months that sometimes reach single digit temperatures, wrapping your hives will often lower hive loss. This practice of wrapping hives is not a guarantee for winter survival, but coupled with other winter preparation this will improve your odds.
It’s a bit late to write a post about the fall management of beehives since it really begins in late summer. It’s during the fall when many of the problems with hives start to rear their ugly head and take many beekeepers by surprise. With a proactive approach verses reactive you can greatly improve your chances of hive winter survival.
In an ideal beekeeping world each hive would have access to nectar flows that last well into fall and store plenty of honey in the bottom boxes of the hive to survive the winter. Honey is the best food for bees. Unfortunately, some hives, for multiple reasons, don’t store enough honey to make it through the winter. Feeding your hives becomes necessary for their survival.