Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snug as a Bug in a Rug - Winterizing the Bee Hives

The weather has been pretty amazing for November. It's been unseasonably warm and even.... sunny! Temperatures have hovered around 10 Celcius (50ish F) or slightly above.

Because of this trend I delayed winterizing the hives, by putting the bee cozies on. The reason why was becuase I didn't want to remove the hive top feeders. I knew that Hive #2 needed to bulk up a bit more and I wanted to take advantage of the great weather to continue feeding the bees.

But I knew the temperatures would eventually drop and snow could come on suddenly so I decided that this weekend I'd do my winterizing.

Attending the annual beekeepers' conference really helped because I got advice to leave the hive top feeder on all winter along with the cozies and just put a small hole either in the inner cover or the feeder so bees can access it.
The other suggestion which the beekeepers told me is to barrel feed. It's what they prefer and there's a couple reasons.

One is that when doing a fall formic acid treatment the bees are very reluctant to go up to the hive feeder to take syrup. I did notice this during the 26 days the formic was in the hive - so it was like losing 26 days of feeding.

But the bees are not reluctant to feed at a barrel outside the hive. The next reason is that they can then put the bee cozies on and be done winterizing the hives but still take advantage of feeding at the same time.
(Bees come and go from a small gap in the bottom corner of the hive where the entrance reducer is).

So I decided to make myself a barrel feeder.... but I forgot to ask how to make one.

Then I got inspired and came up with my own design which I put in the bee yard today.

I got a white pail (food grade) with a lid. Then I cut holes in the sides at the top so the bees can come and go, but the lid will keep the rain out. Next I put the strong syrup in the pail up to the holes and then I put my 'floatation device' in place. I was going to break up styrofoam cups in pieces to float on the surface because I didn't have any styrofoam peanuts on hand, but instead I used bubble wrap with slits in it. It floats nicely and the bees can land on it to sip the syrup (hopefully without drowning. I'll drop by in a couple days just to check to see how it's working).

Then I put the barrel feeder on top of a bird bath that I carted out to the yard.

Why? Because of racoons I wanted something they couldn't climb so they can't get into it.
See my first bee customer? She showed up after less than 10 minutes.
I noticed that flies found the feeder within about 3 minutes. I do think flies have a more sensitive sense of smell than other insects--either that or they're more hungry! I noted that it was warm enough for other insects to be out and about.
I was very surprised to see bees from both hives bringing back pollen! They had soft yellow and darker yellow pollen attached to their back legs. Some of the bees had small lumps but others actually had some pretty decent sized lumps of pollen collected. Where on earth are they getting it from? Amazing.
This location is fantastic for the bees... and me. This photo is a bee with pollen on her legs but sorry it can't be seen - All the photos are cell phone photos because I left my digital camera at home.
I purchased bee cozies from NOD Apiaries earlier this fall. They're made with a strong black plastic with a soft polyfill sealed inside. It's basically a big tube that you push down over top of the hive and it acts just like a nice big warm quilt over the hive.

They will cut down significantly on drafts and cold winds and they'll help the hives retain more of their heat. The black plastic also attracts the sun and helps to warm the hive.

It's designed to have a "peak" in the front center of the hive that sticks out and that's where the bees can come and go from the hive. Rain or snow can channel down this section with no problems.

These cozies must be used with top exits in addition to the reduced entrance at the bottom. The top exit provides needed ventilation so water droplets don't form inside the inner cover and drip down on the bees.

You can see a U-Tube video demonstrating the cozies being put in place.

On the advice of the beekeepers, I left the styrofoam feeder as an insulator for the hive. They suggested filling it with leaves but I had a couple old pollyfill pillows so I put them inside a plastic bag inside the feeder. So the bees can't access it, but it's there as top insulation.

I do hope that the bees are snug as a bug in a rug this winter.
NOTE: Visited 2 days later and found about 100 bees dead in front of Hive #2 - bees with pollen on their legs. I put the covers on at 4:00 that afternoon, with dark coming around 5:00. It appears that these bees must have still been out foraging and couldn't find their way in. They didn't recognize the change and then the cold air probably did the rest. I suggest installing either early in the morning or after dark.
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