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Tucking in our Bees for Winter

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Psalms from the Hive

by Jeannie Saum

Should we or should we notmuskoka trip day3 374

Insulate the hive and top?

Feed them syrup?

Block the wind?

What’s the best way 

For us to tend?

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea

Last year ago in the fall, we argued back and forth about what to do to our bees to prepare for winter.  Just as every beekeeper you talk to has different ideas about how to prepare hives for winter, so, too, Steve and I had differing opinions.  We had lost 2 out of 4 the previous winter, and I thought we should do something proactive to the hives.  Steve, on the other hand, felt that if bees can survive in nature, in a tree, through the winter, that the less done to them the better.  Round and round we went over this.  Our county bee inspector came in the fall, and he felt the hives looked good, and that even the small hive might make it, since they would need less honey stores.  He made a few recommendations about how many boxes to reduce down to and how many frames of honey they would need.  In the end, Steve’s way won out.  We did nothing except leave honey in the hives and feed them some sugar syrup in the fall.

Winter came with a vengeance last winter, as you all may remember.  We had long periods of time with temperatures well below freezing, many days of below zero weather, lots of wind and snow.  Then suddenly, for a day or two, it would warm up to the 50’s and then – Wham! – back to below zero.  This weather played havoc on trees, shrubs, perennials and the bees.  

Bees stay warm in the winter by forming a tightly packed cluster around the queen.  By quivering their flight muscles to generate heat, they keep their cluster and the queen in the middle at close to a toasty 90º!  The bees in the outer layer stay between 48º to 57º.  The bees on the outer layer eat honey from the frames for energy, then move toward the center to get warmer, while the bees in the core move toward the outside to get honey.  But if the body temperature grows colder than 48º, they can’t move their flight muscles, and fall off the cluster and die.

Last winter, with the wildly fluctuating temperatures and the periods of bitter cold, our bees did not fair well.  When the weather warms up to 50º, the bees break cluster and go out for a cleansing flight (they do not defecate in the hive).  Then when the temperature drops rapidly to below freezing, as it did last winter, the bees often can not get the cluster formed and warmed quickly enough.  We lost all but one hive at both the Saum’s  and the Dotson’s apiaries.  We were bummed!  At $95 for a package of bees, beekeeping is an expensive endeavor, especially when they die every winter.

So, this year, Jeannie will get her way.  Doing nothing last winter resulted in a 92% loss, so th20140615_135218is year, we’re doing it my way!!  I wanted to try several things we have heard about at beekeeping conference we’ve been to this past year.  Steve and I made hive blankets on day on my lovely dining room table!  These are shallow boxes with a screen bottom and filled with wood chips.  They go on the top of the hive to catch condensation dripping from the lid.  This condensation  forms in the winter when the heated air from the cluster rises and hits the cold lid of the hive.  If this moisture drips on the bees, they die.  So we are hoping this blanket of wood chips will absorb the moisture and keep the bees dry.

One day in early November, Laurie and I went out and wrapped hives in black roofing tar paper, while Steve cooked more  sugar syrup for the bees.  The black paper helps the hive stay warm through solar gain from the sun on the black paper.  We had intended to staple the tar paper on with our pneumatic stapler, but found it went right through the paper.  So we ended up tying it on with string around the hive.   We added buckets of more syrup to feed until the temperature dropped below freezing, and then moved on to Laurie and Pete’s apiary to do the same.

A few weeks later, we added Styrofoam sheets inside the lids, to further insulate, and drilled a top entrance hole in each hive to help with ventilation – to further control the moisture.  Steve and I also added a T-post and tarp wind break about 3 feet behind the hives, on the west side.

I’ve heard a beekeeper say that the bees are dying  a “death by a thousand cuts” – meaning that there are so many factors that hurt the bees from pollution to pesticides to weather, to lack of forage to viruses and mites, ,.   Hopefully, we have reduced the “cuts” a bit by preparing our hives with these winterizing tactics and are giving our bees a little better chance.

And now we wait…

 

 Deuteronomy 30

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.

16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,

18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live

20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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Winter Chores on Our Mini Farm

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Psalms from the Hive

by Jeannie Saum

Though retired, we’re still havin’ trouble

Keeping up with the chores, We’ll have to redouble

Our efforts to keep chickens fed and watered,

Egg gathered, washed and put in cartons.

Then there’s the bees, about all we can do

Is pray them through until next spring!

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea

Rain Barrel wrapped in insulation and plastic

Rain Barrel wrapped in insulation and plastic

The worst of winter hit Ohio early this year with three weeks of snow and some bitter cold nights in early December.  We outfitted our chicken coop with a heat lamp and thermostat, a rain barrel watering system wrapped with heat tape and run through the wall with a washing machine hose to an automatic pet watering dish with float.  This sits on

auto-pet watering bowl fed by heat tape wrapped washing machine hose, sitting on metal oil pan with light bulb under it

auto-pet watering bowl fed by heat tape wrapped washing machine hose, sitting on metal oil pan with light bulb under it

an upside down metal oil pan fitted with an incandescent light bulb to keep the water unfrozen when it gets really cold.

We’ve also added a timer and light to come on from 4 am to 8 am to supplement their light on short winter days.  This helps them keep laying at full capacity, so  we still get 18-20 eggs a day from our 20 red hens.

heat lamp connected to thermostat, light connected to timer

heat lamp connected to thermostat, light connected to timer

I also decided, a few weeks ago, to block off the bottom row of nest boxes that were on the floor level.  We had

Bottom next boxes blocked off, now laying in second row up

Bottom next boxes blocked off, now laying in second row up

re-purposed a shelving unit into 15 nest boxes, but the 20 chickens only use two or three to lay all their eggs – and it’s always the bottom ones.  That means we have to bend way down to collect eggs out of the lowest boxes.  I decided I’m too old for that!  So I screwed some thin plywood boards over the bottom nests so they can’t use them.  Problem solved!  Now they are using the next row up!  As I’ve said before, we are lazy farmers and have tried to set things up so some chores don’t have to be done every day!

Today, since we had a bit of a heat-wave, we went out to quickly finish some of the fall chores we missed, and tweak a few problem areas.   Our chicken watering system had leaked a little and made some of the straw wet, so we headed out to the coup with some wrenches and feed.  The girls are always excited to see us and expect a treat.  They squawk loudly and chase us around, pecking at our shoes.  We hauled out wet hay, tightened the leaky connection, refilled their food and re- duct taped the black plastic covering our insulated rain barrel, since the wind had blown it off.

They always expect a treat and love popcorn!

They always expect a treat and love popcorn!

Next, we headed out to our apiary of 4 hives.  One thing we didn’t get done in late fall was removing the hive top feeders from our beehives before the winter snow hit. We loosened the top and box feeder on the top of each hive, quickly took them off and sneaked a quick peek before putting the inner cover and lid back on.  We were excited to find live bee clusters in all 4 hives!  They’ve made it so far!  We left 2 boxes of honey on each hive to feed them over the winter.  The bees cluster together and vibrate  their wings to create enough heat to keep the queen in the middle warm at 85 – 90 degrees!  They work hard doing this all winter, moving in and out in the cluster to get warm and need lots of honey for energy.  I learned something new at a fall beekeepers’ meeting – that the bees don’t heat the inside of the hive.  They only heat the cluster.  For this reason, many beekeepers suggest not insulating the hive.  Insulation can create air flow problems that causes moisture to collect and drip on the bees, and they’ll die.  The bees can take the cold, but not being wet.

cluster of bees under the inner cover

cluster of bees under the inner cover

~~

Another thing I learned recently was, that when it snows we must make sure the lower entrance does not get clogged with snow and ice.  This can happen even if the snow isn’t that deep and create airflow and moisture problems.  So I’ve been stopping at the hives on my trips down the driveway, when we’ve had a snow, to clear off the entrance ledges.  So far, so good.

~  ~  ~  ~

Bees carry out the dead to the entrance ledge.

Bees carry out the dead to the entrance ledge.

Psalm 65

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,  God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain,  for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.