As the fall flows slows and the golden rod withers in Middle Tennessee, it is time to start thinking about preparing the hives for winter. It is rather simple…make sure the colony has an adequate honey supply, reduce the space in the hive to the tightest area the bees will fit, and reduce the size of the entrance to prevent mice from overwintering with the bees.
For the bees’ honey supply, enough honey is left in the hive for the bees to survive the winter and to start to build comb in the spring. The number of frames left for the winter will depend on the size of the brood nest. In the Langstroth hives, vertical and horizontal, one honey frame is left for two full frames of bees. In the Layens hives it is much easier. Each frame has a four to five inch honey rainbow at the top, which is plenty of honey for the winter. For insurance, one extra frame is left in place at the end of the brood nest in the hive.
For winter, reduce the available space in the hive. Think about a house…the bigger the house, the harder it is to heat. The same with a hive box. You want the bees to be as efficient as possible during the winter…the warmer the temperatures inside the hive, the less energy the bees have to expend to stay warm. Imagine yourself in a tight mummy sleeping bag that is designed for sub-freezing temperatures versus a big spacious sleeping bag designed for 50 deg F. In January and February in Middle Tennessee, when the temperatures can dip into the teens, you might freeze in the 50 deg bag. The same with the bees. They need a tight, well insulated space. The 1-1/2” thick walls of horizontal hives are sufficient and the bees can regulate the temperatures more efficiently in those types of hives. The 5/8” thick walls of vertical hives are not as sufficient and the bees expend more energy to regulate the temperatures, and sometimes the temperatures are so low that the bees freeze. So, to help keep the vertical hive warmer, winter “jackets” are installed on the hives. Another idea is to stack hay bales around the hives to create a wind block.
For the entrances, the entrance disc is a wonderful option. The disc is rotated to the “jail bars” for the winter; that setting also serves as a mouse guard and a Queen excluder. On the Bee Kept Instagram account you can watch a reel on how to use the “jail bars” entrance disc setting. If you don’t have the entrance discs on your hives, then reduce the entrance to the smallest opening.
You are all set! If you have any questions, comments, or any tidbits, then please email.
If you have not done so already, please sign up for our newsletter called The Cluster.