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Honey bees in beehive

Beekeeping In October

The cold months will soon be upon us which means that the largest amount of colony losses is right around the corner. It is important to do your hive inspections before the cold temperatures set in.

So it’s time to start thinking about how to protect the hives from the Wisconsin weather to come. The hardest part about winter beekeeping in Wisconsin is that it is often too cold to open your hives for months on end. So one warm November afternoon you set the bees up with everything you can to get them through, and then wish them the best until spring.

Here are 10 tasks that you can do this fall to
provide your hive support during the cold winter.

1. Replace screened bottom boards

The USDA published a study done in Iowa comparing the use of screen bottom boards versus solid bottom boards in cold winter climates. The study found that in the hives with the screen board the honey bee population decreased by 20%

2. Provide an additional food source

We’re still having warm days, but the flowers are dying. This limits the bee's natural food availability. To prevent them from tapping into their honey stores too early and thus having them run out of food this winter, feed now to give extra support.

During fall months we feed our bees a 2:1 concentration of sugar to water solution to help them store up.

Another option is fondant "bee candy" or pollen patties. The video shows a simple method for making pollen patties.

3. Condensation is the winter killer

Condensation in the beehive is even more deadly than cold. Many beekeepers will place an empty hive body above the inner cover for added protection against the cold. Some beekeepers will place different substrates within the space above the inner cover to soak up the humidity. Some use compressed cardboard or even hay.

There are many different materials to choose from including newspaper which is fairly cheap. Crumble the newspaper into balls and place them in an empty hive body above the inner cover as shown below. You can put an open sheet over the top; it is easier to use as an indicator if the paper is wet when you pick this sheet up. The newspaper can become saturated quickly depending on the weather. It is important to remove and replace the newspaper once a week to prevent mold.

4. Install an entrance reducer

It is recommended to put an entrance reducer on each hive before winter starts. The population of a hive naturally ebbs and flows throughout the year, creating an ever-changing work force of bees responsible for guarding the hive. This population decreases as winter looms or the colony is being weakened. The entrance reducer can help them get through these periods of low populations.

5. Set up a wind block

Stack straw bales in a U-shape around your hive blocking it from wind and snow drifts. A piece of metal sheet roofing or plywood works well for this too. You can stabilize it with t-post stakes.

7. Implement Veroa mite prevention

Signs of a varoa mites infestation
Signs of Infestation
of Varoa mites

If you’re new to beekeeping start researching ways to treat for Varoa mite prevention. Your hive is going to be (somewhat) sealed up for the winter. This gives any lingering Varroa mite the perfect opportunity to up the infestation without your intervention.

8. Wrap your hive

Wrapping your hive with cardboard or tar paper can help block drafts and contain heat. Wrap on three sides excluding the entrance side.

9. Eliminate unused space.

If you observe that your bees are not storing food or laying eggs in a particular box, remove that unused space. The extra space will welcome unwanted guests.

10. When the queen is happy, the kingdom is happy

The quote goes, "When the Queen is happy, there is peace in the Kingdom." Going into winter with strong, healthy Queens free of disease will give your hive a better chance at survival. The Queens age will also be a factor for survival. Some beekeepers will re-queen a second season Queen because she has a 50:50 chance of failure over winter.

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