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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Beekeeping: Putting the Bees to Bed for Winter

As I visit my hives for the last time this year, I’m reminded of how beekeeping is a mixture of science, art and dumb luck! I keep my bees in pretty much the same manner year after year—no mite treatments, no chemicals, make new hives from the strong hives, let the weak ones die—but the outcome varies. When I head out to check on them, I really never know what I’m going to encounter.

This year, things look good.

We’ve had our first frost of fall, and I’ve completed my autumn hive inspections. All of the fully established colonies look healthy, each housed in two deep brood boxes with a shallow super of honey on top. The frost did not kill the fall bloom, and the bees are still bringing in nectar and pollen from goldenrod and asters, and the shallow supers are almost full of honey in most hives. This has been a good year for the established hives, none has failed and they look strong and well supplied going into winter. I put the entrance reducers in place and will try to forget about them until a warm day in late winter or early spring.

I’m not so sure about the nucleus hives (nucs). I started these hives in the spring. Most have filled the first deep brood boxes and part of the second boxes, but two nuc hives have only filled one brood box each. I know that I need to “take my losses in the fall,” combine weak hives to give them a better chance of surviving the winter. But these hives look pretty good. Are they both still too strong to sacrifice one?

I decided to risk it. I removed the second deep boxes that I had given them and that they have not started to fill. It’s too late for them to make any progress in these second boxes, and a smaller space is easier for them to protect and to keep warm over the winter. But the bees are still bringing in food and the first brood boxes are too full! What to do?

I decided to add a shallow of drawn comb to each deep box. In one, I replace three empty frames with one frame of honey from each of three established

hives. I have some extra honey in my personal stash, so I use this to fill a feeder to place in a box on top of the shallow of drawn comb in the other hive. I’m hoping that feeding them back some of their own honey and giving them room to store a little more of the fall bloom will ensure ample stores for winter.

This is a gamble. Both hives may survive the winter or they may not. If the hives survive but are weak in the spring, I can combine them then. If they survive. The decision is made. I add the entrance reducers and walk away.

I have done what I can for the bees this year. The rest is up to them, to the weather, to how long and hard the winter is, to whether or not my neighbors use herbicides and pesticides, to whether some new mite or virus is introduced to my apiary for which they have no immunity. However much is science or art, keeping bees these days is just a damn crap shoot!

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