I have been thinking about winter preparation for the hives since before I installed the bees. There are so many different ideas and ways of doing things. The problem is that no one knows for sure what helps and what doesn’t. During the spring, summer, and fall the honeybee hives seems to run like a well oiled machine. I spent time inspecting the hives, but my most important job was just making sure that the bees had enough space. If they needed more space it was up to me to provide that for them.
Having natural, untreated hives is important to me. It is one of the reasons that I got top bar hives. In many areas of my life I try to take the most natural path. When I learned about top bar hives, that was the one that seemed to fit my beliefs the best. Now the question becomes, how much do I intervene for the winter?
The bees worked very hard to fill their hives with honey this year and I am excited that they did so. One of the big beekeeping questions is to feed or not to feed over the winter and I have decided not to. I hope that they have enough honey to get them through the winter. Watching them work through the season and seeing how they managed their home, I do not want to put something artificial into it. They know where their honey is and I do not want to disrupt that.
The other intervention that I heard about was adding insulation between the lid and the bars to provide some extra warmth for the bees. I was leaning in this direction and I even made little quilts for my top bar hives. When it got cold recently, I put the quilts in the hive. We had some rain and then the temperatures went up. I removed the quilts and there was a small amount of discoloration on them.
My first thought was that the quilts got wet when it had rained. The quilts did not feel wet when I removed them, but it had been a few days. At that point I began to think that if the quilts did get wet once the weather is below freezing, the quilts would freeze and possibly cause the bees to freeze. I do not want to be the cause of the bees freezing. I realized that putting the quilts in was a risk that I am not willing to take.
The top bar hive in my yard is protected from heavy winds, it is very close to our fence. This is the same for the Langstroth hive. The host top bar hive is out in the open and exposed. For the host hive, I will be putting bales of hay around the hive to create a barrier as well as a little bit of insulation. I will leave the entry way open for the bees to come out on nice days, but the rest of the hive will be surrounded by hay.
Hopefully all of the research and preparation that I have done will be enough. I really want to see these bees make it through the winter and flourish next year too.