Wintering Down Beehives

How do we winter down ? 

We run our Beehive colonies with two full-depth boxes on the first and second levels.  We consider the second hive box to be a “multi-use” box.

  • In Spring it’s there to allow the queen to lay freely to deal with natural bee population increase also so the population does not get too congested and cause absconding or swarming.
  • In Autumn its use changes as with the drop in temperatures comes decline in bee population.  Use of the frames in the second box changes from brood to capped Honey frames. Through our beehive management we manipulate honey frames and nectar frames up to the second level and start to bring down any remaining brood frames. Empty brood frames are removed completely.

We do not use queen excluders as the girls naturally will not go above the second full-depth box if you manage them properly.

All queen excluders must be removed if you over-winter with two hive-boxes because if your cluster decides to move up the queen will be left behind, this is especially true for those who have hives close to the ground and temperatures start to drop – they will move up to a second level.  

If you winter through with one hive box and their entrance is exposed you will put your girls at risk of attacks such as from wasps or robbing bees you may cause the hive to fail – by not having enough food – you may cause late winter starvation or absconding.

We aim to give the girls their own honey so we don’t have to panic about starvation plus its the best food and the most nutritious.

  • Best Practice : Keep 10 to 12 frames of their honey

We help them keep their entrance secure – a robbing-screen gives the girls an extra ‘fence’ which they will start working as part of their hive, we leave ours unpainted so they can propolise it, which will make it scent of the hive and therefore anything getting behind it will be attacked as they are not scented the same as the hive and the colony’s Bees.

Robbing Screen
Robbing screen attached to hive box with bungy

Put on a robbing-screen !!

  • We Close our robbing-screens to the smallest access in Autumn
  • We Add a hive mat with a small slot
  • We place the extra hive mat in-between the two boxes.  This will enable access to their honey stores and they can also clean the box and frames.
  • The small slot is located to the rear of the cluster so that no robbing-bees or wasps can easily access the honey super because the entrance to the slot is very difficult for them to get through because the cluster is right there, they will attack and kill any thieves and murderers.
  • BONUS – because we leave our colonies with their honey on top, plus we treat with OAV over Winter – we found that the brood remained condensed and when we treated with OAV, it kept the treatment more effective

We initially add the extra hive-mat with slot at the very top of the Beehive, then we continue to check population levels through the rest of Autumn, then when we see the population levels reduce, and brood laying also reducing, start to bring the hive-mat with slot down.

First move down the hive-mat w/slot – when we had sorted all the honey frames to the top box.

The aim will be to move all capped honey up to the second box while moving all brood frames together when there is no more brood in the second box –  we move the extra hive-mat down to sit in-between the two boxes, where we have more than 10 frames of honey we will leave any extra boxes above the extra hive-mat rather than worry about storing in a shed where it will no doubt be at risk from neglect ( well in my case a possibility ), the girls in past seasons have shown that they will continue to clean any boxes above the extra-hivemat.

Second move down the hive-mat w/slot – when the brood frames filled only one hive-box

Real Cool

Colder temperatures can lead to your bees moving their cluster up to the second level, therefore leaving their entrance exposed and vulnerable to robbing-bees and wasps.

The cold and damp from the soil – if the Beehive is close to the ground – can travel up woodware or through any meshed bottom boards so best advice is to check your bottom board before wintering-down to see if there is mould which could be black or any wet or dampness.  If there is this risk it pays to have some dry baseboards available to you so you can swap the damp ones out and replace with the dry ones. The damp ones can then be cleaned and dried out ready for use.

or Perhaps make a hive-stand which will enable air-flow under the hive so that the baseboard will keep dry.

We said we would talk about wintering down our Beehives.  Every beekeeper needs to be aware that this time of year the Honey Bee populations in their Beehives changes.  The type of brood laying can shift to worker brood only laying.

Over Autumn Honey Population changes – all colonies will start to decline in numbers – this is a natural occurrence. By the time Winter hits, your colony will already have ‘winter’ Bees, these are worker bees which will live longer than ‘summer’ Bees. They will change their metabolism to survive the colder temperatures. Its these Bees that you want healthy and strong.

Other changes ? …you may see drones being removed and perhaps no drone laying at all.

Note that even if there is no drone laying – varroa will still go into worker brood cells.

And for us kiwi beekeepers ?

We are so lucky that in most parts of New Zealand we have pretty moderate temperatures…you need to know that if their Bees are foraging – they will be picking up mites !!  …if they are picking-up mites your colony is vulnerable to varroa IN CELLS !!!! if they are foraging year-round the old-fashioned way of treating Autumn / Spring will NOT be enough.

Conclusion ?

Monitoring VDM levels is crucial for all beeks – no matter what treatments you use.

Consider monitoring your number #1 jobbie.  Not just mite falls or from walking bees through sugar-shakes but checking inside capped cells in brood frames.

Treat – if you find mite load increasing.

Warning:   Always do mite counts BEFORE treating.  Never use two treatment types at the same time, always complete treatments according to instructions and then wait to monitor results before using a different treatment. By monitoring mite levels about a week or two after treatments, will give you more accurate results on checking efficacy of the treatment rather than checking mite levels while treating – when you would always expect to see mite drops.  

But as Autumn comes along our thoughts should move to how can we deal with Varroa Destructor Mite in Winter ?

Non invasive monitoring over Winter is as simple-as having a meshboard with inspection tray – this handy piece of equipment is a design and built meshboard by Gary at kiwimana.

Gary oiling the tops of the kiwimana meshboard
Gary oiling the tops of the kiwimana meshboard
Kiwimana Meshboard – looking at the rear

The front looks like a normal baseboard but the picture shows the back of the meshboard.

You can see there is a corflute inspection board. This is a modern version of the old-fashion ‘sticky board’ reference.

Inspection Board Oiled used to check for Varroa Mites

Sticky boards were like a piece of cardboard and slid into the front of the Beehive, they were used to check for issues in a Beehive – the method is that you oil the board and anything that climbs in the hive will be captured on the sticky oil but unfortunately what it meant was that it would also ‘trap’ and kill honey bees too.

Sticky boards or inspection boards are so valuable for checking what is happening in a hive because waste, debris and varroa etc always fall down …..thanks to gravity ; ) but we don’t want to ‘trap’ our walking Bees !

  • Gary’s design of the base includes grooves on each side of the base, which the inspection board can slide into is set at height of 17mms under the mesh so would not interfere or kill any walking Honey bees. As the inspection board is accessed from the rear of the meshboard it means that the inspection board can be inserted / removed without you interfering with the flight-path of your Bees so they can just carry-on as usual.

The other very important benefit of Gary’s design is that you will not need to open the hive at all so is considered ‘non-invasive‘ which means you can access it any time of the year to do checks. This is great for checking varroa mite drops through Winter and also for any other issues such as robbing as it will catch wax-waste too. The beauty of the inspection board is that you won’t chill the hive, and you can remove if the weather is hot and then put it back in if there is heavy rainfall….

If I am organic and I need to treat – what treatment does kiwimana use in Winter ?

  • We use Oxalic Acid Vaporization – we find it to be a dry method, which means it doesn’t cause moisture in the hive.
  • We also found that none of the brood – from eggs to larvae or capped brood was harmed in using this method.
  • We found that the queen continued to lay.
  • We also found that hives that were suffering from deformed wings and sac-brood were able to recover successfully.

Oxalic Acid Vaprosiation is using a heating tool with oxalic acid crystals – we use the kiwi made and manufactured “kiwi oxalic acid vaporizer” it requires a power source of a 12 volt battery.

Do you have an Oxalic Acid Vaporizer ? then you can use this type of meshboard for OAV treatment application. The inspection board can be turned upside down, then add something to put the head of the vaporizer on to protect the corflute from the heat of the vaporizer head (otherwise it will melt it ! ) and a cloth to cover the entrance and the gap’s of the sides of the inspection board and bob’s your uncle !!

The OAV treatment application can be done any time of the year without being invasive as you won’t need to open the hive.

The mesh also enables the Bees to move air around the hive so they can ventilate and we have seen that it means that they don’t have to do fanning at the front entrance. The ability for the Bees to ventilate the hive means the girls can reduce moisture in the hive.

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