Monday, 21 October 2013

Winter preparations

Winter preparations in top bar hives?

Yes its a question that we all need to be thinking about. Firstly do we do any at all. Well this depends on how 'natural' your natural bee keeping is going to be. Does nature do anything for the bee's? The very simple answer is nothing more than the bees do for themselves. So if your being really true to nature you will have taken no honey during the summer and will leave them to last out the winter on their own.

When would you consider assisting them by feeding?

This summer has been a pretty good one for the bee's lots of nice weather so plenty of forage time. What this has also meant is an increase in swarming and most importantly the production of casts (small swarm with virgin queen). Usually these are produced slightly later in the season and don't always have time to build up sufficient winter stores. Also wasps and in my case hornets have been more of an issue this year, and a weak colony can have all its honey taken by persistent wasp attacks(hornets also kill the bee's).

How and when to feed?

 Liquid feeding is probably coming to an end around now, the bees are still collecting from the ivy so its obviously not to late but I wouldn't leave it much longer. If you do liquid feed make it a 2Kg sugar to 1Ltr water mix. Several feeder types are available I now use inverted honey jars on a adapted follower board as the bulk feeds in my mind drown to many bees.

Inverted Jar Feeder bees access bottom of jar lid has several small holes in the lid.
Bulk feeder larger capacity with float (tends to drown bees)

 Later in the year/early next year feeding has to be by fondant (I buy it as I cannot seem to make it) the bee's have no way to evaporate liquid feeds during winter. Fondant is a slight problem since it has to placed over the winter cluster of bees. Tim and myself both came up with the same solution, drill 8-10mm holes in the joints of the bars above the brood area and place the fondant above this in a inverted takeaway container.

Two of my four hives are being fed as we speak, one has been constantly bothered by wasps(sorted it finally by closing down entrance to half a hole). The other looks like it repelled a hornet attack at a cost(decapitated bees in abundance). Both had very little in the way of stores and I don't want to lose them.

The other hives have plenty so I've left them.

So things to do :-

  • Nothing at all if you think they can manage by themselves.
  • Feed them if they look like being short on stores.
  • Close your entrances down to one hole to help maintain heat and avoid drafts.
  • Prepare for fondant feeding now as a winter cluster objects to drills coming thru the roof.
Things not to do
  • Don't go out of your way to keep them warm, no wrapping them in quilts and bubble wrap. A warm colony will consume much more honey than a cold one.
  • Don't completely seal them in they need to get out once in a while to spend a penny.
  • Don't liquid feed in winter months, chances are they will ignore it anyway. 

Are we all prepared, only time will tell.

See you at the next meeting, where I beleive discussions will be had regarding christmas feasting.




  1. Hi Dave
    An excellent outline of winterization and, as per usual, a very balanced view with regards to the 'natural' approach. It is now just the start of the 'season' here as the weather is now cool enough (28-32C) for the flowering plants to do their thing. Still haven't, due to a thousands and one other things, got around to making my Warre hives; but it is still near the top of my 'to do list'.

    Doesn't seem like five minutes ago that we were all sharing an Xmas meal last year. Where does the time go?

    Keep up the good work, and Best Wishes to you and yours


  2. Hi Boyd

    A mere 32C! We're enjoying a very mild autumn at the moment, which should hopefully give the bees extra time to stock up although I'm concerned that they will not slim down numbers before winter.
    Sounds like your keeping busy over there, lets hope you do manage to get some bee's before the season is finished.
    I now have a new job which should see be back on the scene a little more than during the summer.
    We'll have to raise you a toast at the Christmas shin dig.

    All the best to you both.


  3. A great summary, and very timely. I like to take out some of the unused comb at the ends of the hive to:
    - make candles for Mum for Christmas;
    - reduce chances of wax moth taking residence (not sure on the validity of this but it sounds good);
    - provide less homes for critters and molds, but as my hives are fully open underneath the mold problem isn't so great for my colonies;
    - another way to cycle out older comb and encourage bees to make new ones the following year.

    Thanks for doing this post,