Ready for winter anyone?


Top left: the calm before the compacting storm.
Top right: two down, three to go.
Bottom left: tackling the feisty hive.
Bottom centre: shaking and brushing.
Bottom right: one of the few times the smoker came out this summer.

8 September 2016

Compared to other beekeepers in our area, we were late in our winter preparations (4 – 8 September). This is usually done a few days after the last honey harvest but there was too much else going on so we had to wait. We knew they had enough honey left in the hives so they wouldn’t starve: the main nectar flow is over, but the weather is still unseasonably summery so they continue to spend energy, bringing in pollen.

Winter preparations consist mainly of packing the bees down into one or two boxes and making sure they have enough food to survive the long Swedish winter. In September, the population normally goes down from the height of 80,000 bees to around 50,000 and the queens slows down the egg laying process.

About the compacting: Some beekeepers swear by one box, some – like us – by two. This year, we followed the advice of the seasoned beekeeper that runs our local association: Nisse puts two unbuilt, clean wax foundation frames on the outside edges of the box, then intersperses these with built out frames (so they can store the extra sugar in them), brood and honey. He puts the bottom box in the “cold” position (all frames pointing towards the entrance) and the top box in the opposite, “warm” position with the same arrangement of unbuilt, built out, brood and honey. I forgot to take a photo of this: compacting bees into two boxes is tricky work which needs to be done fast.

This year, we were keen to leave as much early summer honey as possible in the hives, which according to some is the most useful winter honey for the bees. So the A-, B- and C-hives got 10 kg each and were compacted into two full height boxes.

The D- and E-hive were a different kind of puzzle: the wooden hives are a lot prettier to look at than the styrofoam ones but they are also a lot heavier. I find it hard to lift a full height styrofoam box with honey (= approx 20 kgs) but could never lift a wooden full height one. So we decided when we started using these two wooden hives that the honey would have to be in half height boxes. This worked very well in the summer but … this also means that if we want to give the bees in these hives honey for winter, they have to be compacted in one and a half box, not two.

The D-hive was relatively easy to handle: this colony had been slow to develop, produced hardly any honey and was not as aggressive as its sisters in the E-hive. Compacting 1 full height and 2 half height boxes into one and 1/2 boxes was manageable. We spotted the queen; she moved around very sluggishly. We may have to replace her next year.

The E-hive was a bit of a different story. This is the only colony for which the smoker ever comes out (and what a dog it is to keep lit!). They are just in a different league. I’m pretty sure it was one of this lot that stung me the other day when I was minding my own business, mowing the lawn. It got me on the top of my ear and it hurt like hell for two days. If this colony survives the winter, we will sell it as it’s really not a pleasure to work with them.

On 8 September, we put feeder trays on all the hives and gave them 6 kgs on liquid sugar, to supplement their winter stores.

The F-hive at the back of the house is a relatively new colony in just two boxes, split this summer from the A-hive, with a bought queen. It’s not as populous as we had hoped but fingers crossed it survives the winter. Then we have a nuc on the top balcony which seems to be thriving. Both got supplementary food on 11 September.



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