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

Streamlining the hives for winter


"How are our girls?" Mark asked.

We use that term for our goats and our chickens...and apparently now our honeybees. "Oh, you mean our thousands of girls?" I answered. "They've got enough honey for the winter, but none for us...again."

Inspecting a bee boxThe mother hive --- our Langstroth/Warre hybrid --- was doing the best, probably because I fed them a couple of gallons of sugar water in September. The hive now consists of one very heavy Warre box chock full of honey, with a lighter honey-and-brood Langstroth box below.

Since we'll be overwintering the hive as a hybrid, I went ahead and took away the two Langstroth supers I'd optimistically placed on the bottom of the hive. The bees had built some comb in one of them, but clearly lacked the capacity to do any more after a spring split followed by a swarm. Oh well, there's always next year to get them all the way down into the Langstroth box and to hope for honey for us!


I thought the daughter hive was down to one very heavy honey box and a lighter honey-and-brood box as well. In fact, the photo above was meant to be my "after" picture, showing how I'd left the removed boxes beside the hives for the night so our girls could clean out any nectar they might have been dehydrating within those combs. But there sure seemed to be a lot of activity around one of those Warre boxes....

I walked back over to take a look, and sure enough that box included some capped honey! Not enough to make it easy to see by looking up through the bottom (my method of Inspecting a Warre hiveinspecting Warre boxes since the frames usually end up glued to the sides and tear if you try to lift them out). The visual inspection plus the lightness of the box had convinced me that it was mostly bare comb. Looks like I was wrong!

In a Langstroth hive, I would have gone through both light boxes and consolidated all the honey into one box so the bees would have less space to heat over the winter, but that's not really possible in a Warre hive. So I plopped the third box back on top, figuring our daughter colony could use the capped honey and whatever dehydrating nectar was in the other frames to top off their barely sufficient stores.

That's pretty much it for bee chores until spring since our fall varroa mite test came back very clean. I'll slip in the bottom-board inserts before long and cross my fingers that our hives will make it through the most dangerous time of their lives --- the winter.

In the meantime, I'll count my apicultural blessings. Even if we didn't end up with honey, we doubled our hives this year for the price of about thirty pounds of sugar, but with no purchased bees. Sounds like a success to me!

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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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