Winter preparation for your bee hives will vary depending on your location. What I’m about to write is how I prepare for my Winter months for my general location in the Silicon Valley.
1) For the cold, frosty, and wet season my number one practice is to keep the elements off of my hives. So what I do is I provide a roof over my bee hives. I don’t paint my hives as I want the wood to breathe freely. Anything can be used as the roof but what’s nice is a piece of corrugated roof that can be bought at your local hardware store (BTW, Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) stopped carrying them. Home Depot or Lowes will have them $14.11 each, 96″ x 26″). Any sort of wind will blow the corrugated roofs off so be sure to either tie it down or put a few heavy items on top such as bricks or logs.
2) Second thing I like to do with all my hives is to put some sort of insulation on the top. This insulation goes under the corrugated roof and above the flat plywood cover that I like to use. Insulation material can be anything from an empty super, cardboard, foam, foam insulation or anything else that can provide a barrier to keep the heat in and cold from bearing directly down on the cover.
Before I continue I have to say that I’ve overwintered small colonies using the two above practices just by insulating the top and keeping the rain and frost off of the hives.
3) Make sure all hives are leveled or somewhat tilted forward. If rain does hit the hive body and solid bottom board you don’t want water running into the hive. Having it tilted slightly will allow the water to run out. Shims of any kind used on the back two corners of the hives will do just fine.
4) Remove any unused space. If you added a super in August, or recently harvested honey and placed the super back for them to clean up, and the bees haven’t used it, take it off in the middle of October or before the cold and rainy season begins. Some years our Fall flow is so strong that they can fill a super but it varies every year.
5) Feeding. I haven’t fed a drop of sugar syrup this year because our nectar flow was so strong. But if your bees have zero Winter stores you can decide if you want to feed or not. And this month and next will be the last two months you would want to feed. If I were to do a bee removal now and the bees have zero honey, I would feed or they wouldn’t have a chance to survive. Or better yet, because I have excess honey from my colonies and in my freezer, I can easily slip in a frame or two of capped honey into the weak hives.
But search for the post on To Feed or Not to Feed. Feeding in my opinion hurts the colonies more than not feeding if they already have some stored food for the Winter. Our Winters aren’t that harsh and have nectar and pollen sources all year.
So these are the next steps I’ll be taking this month to get my hives ready for the arrival of the cold and wet season. I’ll post pictures when I have them all set up.