I’ve always lived along the Pacific Coast, from the torrid tropics of Mexico to the temperaterainforest of Northern California, so I have no experience with the kind of cold weather that gives winter a bad name. For advice in about beekeeping in a cold climate, last week I asked readers and Sunset Facebook fans how they prepare their hives for a harsh winter.
Elizabeth Connelly writes: I just attended a beekeeping seminar in NY today, all about Preparing Hives for Winter (given by Chris Harp and Grai St. Clair Rice of HoneybeeLives.org). I'll be removing empty frames and comb, moving frames together, and staining the outside of the supers with homemade propolis-stain (so the supers willbetter withstand the elements). I'll also be feeding my bees bee tea, to strengthen their immune systems over the next few weeks.Andrea Cohen says: Our bees seem to do OK here in northern New Mexico without any special protections so long as we leave them adequate honey stores to over-winter. We got about 110 12-oz bottles from our hive this year—our best harvest yet! The supers were stacked about 6 feet high.
Marcee Pfaff advises that she is making sure they (the bees) have plenty ofstores. She is also moving frames together to create the right ventilation andspace for them to move up in the hives as the season progresses.
The folks atBackYardHive.com in Colorado sent me an article on overwintering bees. I waschastened by their advice about harvesting honey from a top bar hive. Since in winter the bees need plenty of honey, you should take only the last two frames of summer honey from the top bar hive. Gulp—we harvested 8 frames inSeptember, and the hoped for fall harvest never materialized as the weather turned nasty and hot and shut down the nectar flow.
BackYardHive.com is selling a “hive duvet.” You can buy them in fancy colors, and if you livewhere that cold white stuff falls from the sky (you call that snow, right?), it seems like they'll help keep your bees warm.
We may not get really cold weather here in Coastal California, but Kirk Anderson at Backwards Beekeepers in Southern California reminded me that all is not perfect in paradise. “We don't have winter really. But we have Ants. And we have a time of no nectar ... from mid August 'til October more or less. It is difficult to feed because of the ants.” Yes, we know about ants.
On a bright note, spring comes early for us. Kirk says, “Spring here for me is when the peach tree blooms in China Town. This is about the end of January to February.” In the San Francisco Bay Area, spring comes with flowering ornamental plums.
I’m counting on our mild winter, suburban gardens with year-round flowers, and our early spring to get our girls through.
May all your bees survive 'til spring.