My husband Mike has spent months concerned about how to winter our hive. Everyone seems to have their opinion. Wrap or don’t wrap? Wind-guard or none? Do they have enough honey to survive? If not, fondant or sugar tray? And given that we live a few blocks from Lake Michigan here in Wisconsin, winters are kind of unpredictable.
So Mike did what any good beekeeper does: talk to a lot of people and find out what they do or what they recommend for our climate, read up about it and make a decision. What he didn’t count on was this:
These pictures were taken the 3rd week of December when it was unseasonably warm, as in high 40’s, low 50’s (Fahrenheit). The past 2 years, we have had huge snowfalls on December 1st. Mike definitely did NOT take a prolonged heat wave into account when planning how to winter our bees.
The day before Thanksgiving, I took 3 bars of empty comb, made fondant, and filled the comb with it. It was my first foray into fondant-making, and it was a lot less difficult than I expected it to be. Given that we are situated at one of the highest points in Port Washington, wind is always a factor for us; because of this, we opted to move the hive to a more sheltered location on our property, about 15-20 feet away from the hive’s regular location. In addition, Charlie from BeePods (the manufacturer of out top bar hive) recommends putting nylons (pantyhose) full of sawdust under the cover on top of the bars to help prevent moisture in the hive, so we also did that. Also, as you can see in the top picture, Mike took the whole wind break thought a step further and made a box (minus the bottom) around the entire hive. He painted the top black to absorb the heat of the sun, and stained the sides (also to absorb the heat but to add a bit of aesthetics to it, since the brick on our home is almost the same color). He cut 3 holes in the side to line up with the openings, and viola~ with all of his research, planning and hard work, our ladies would hopefully, prayerfully, make it through the harsh Wisconsin winter.
Harsh! HA! Not this year– at least not as of yet.
We have had a lot of sunny days in the 40’s which means some fairly active bees. The month of December, which traditionally has brought large, steady snowfalls, has brought days of bees venturing out to do what bees do– corpse removal, drinking water, and of course going to the bathroom. Our driveway, vehicles and even our sweatshirts have been spotted with bees and bee-droppings, and a lot of dead bees in a 5 foot radius of the hive. Nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” and “Merry Christmas” like spray paint patterns of orange bee-poo! But what it has done is enabled us to do on these warmer days is to crack the top off the box, remove the lid, and put the feeder jar of 2:1 sugar syrup back in to hopefully give the girls something else to eat besides their winter stores and the fondant.
But with the New Year came a change in weather. This past weekend we got a trace of snow, and last night we were down to about 7 degrees. Reality should soon be setting in and they will be hunkering down for their long winter’s nap. Then we will be back to nervously awaiting Spring, the thaw, and hopefully the return of our hive. We have done all that we can do, and now it is up to them.