The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Preparing the hives for winter

Small bee colony

We had such a strong late-summer nectar flow, I neglected to check the bees in September.  Usually, that's when I decide if I need to start feeding to ensure the colonies make it through the winter, but how could they need more honey when I'd fed the two weaker hives all spring and early summer, and the wildflowers had taken care of the early fall?

Smoking a hiveWell, I was wrong.  The barn swarm was in the worst shape, having only colonized one super.  I knew that the colony was a gamble since they got such a late start, but it was still a shock to see the whole hive empty except for six small frames partly full of brood, pollen, and honey.  I don't know what I could have done differently, except maybe if I'd kept feeding through the nectar flow, and chances are this hive will perish over the winter.  Still, I'll help them as best I can, removing the empty brood box, putting the colonized super on the bottom and the empty super above them just in case they want the space, then cobbling together a Warre-style quilt out of an extra super to provide insulation on top of the hive.  And I'll feed as long as they'll take it.

Empty Warre hive box

The two Warre hives are in better shape, but don't have as much honey as I'd hoped.  In fact, the hive I dusted with powdered sugar this week had three empty boxes (which I removed)!  I had wondered how a hive we started as a package this spring could have used up so many boxes so fast, but the boxes on top were full, so I kept adding more.  With only two boxes colonized, I'll start feeding them to ensure they have enough honey.  Meanwhile, our oldest hive, started as a package in spring 2012 then losing half their workers to a swarm in spring 2013, never made it into their third box either, so I'll feed them as well.

The two Warre hives are in about the same state our single Warre hive was in last fall, so I'm not terribly concerned about them making it through the winter (although feeding until it gets cold won't hurt).  And the word on the street is that all the rain made this a tough year for bees in our area, so I guess it's not so bad I'm stuck feeding them again.  Maybe next year they'll finally get off the dole and make some honey for me?

The EZ Miser is simple to set up in a pasture, giving your flock clean water away from the coop.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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