We all want to find a warm haven and a hot meal when it’s cold outside. Field mice love to claim a hive corner as their own to winter in. Just a few inches from the warm cluster of bees, they bask in the heat given off by all those shivering bodies and wings, chewing up comb to make way for the debris hauled in for their nests. Skunks and opossums will park themselves at the hive entrance on a winter’s night, scooping out and gorging on pawfuls of warm honey and larvae. Clawed up turf in front of a hive announces their nighttime thievery.
Now is the time to make sure your hives are protected from these marauders. This week I am making my “last call” to each hive before winter. First I install the entrance reducers to discourage the mice. These were removed before the spring nectar flow to make more room for landing and taking off. I also make sure all the hives have carpet-tack strips attached to the bottom boards (see photo). These have always worked for me to fend off skunks and opossums looking for a winter snack.
I will not open the hives again until next spring, although I will check on them often. During these checks, I gingerly tip each hive forward from the back to feel its weight. The heft will tell me whether a hive is well provisioned. Before leaving, I put my ear to the back of the hive and gently knock, “Anybody home?” Before I knock, I can often hear the soft hum of wings and bodies moving inside to maintain the cluster warmth. After knocking, I hear a quick spike in the decibel level of this contented hum. All is well. See you in the spring!
Update: Those of you who follow this blog know I lost a lot of bees to pesticides during the nectar flow last spring while the bees were foraging on neighboring farms. I am happy to report that my surviving hives are all in good condition going into winter. Again this year, I have had no varroa losses despite not treating and I have not had to feed any of my hives. Sorry agri-BEE-ness but we survived another year without and despite you. I only hope my bees can survive another one of your spring spraying seasons!
Betty is a beekeeper living in Middle Tennessee who promotes chemical-free and sustainable beekeeping. You can find her online at PersimmonRidgeHoneyFarm.com and on Facebook.