Beekeeping: Putting the Bees to Bed for Winter

| 10/7/2014 12:47:00 PM

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?

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