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Beekeeping 101 — Part 2

My husband Ron and I are new at beekeeping and this has been our first winter of keeping honeybees on the farm. As with the rest of our first year, there has been a lot to learn, and the bees’ resiliency never ceases to amaze us.

We started preparing them for winter by leaving approximately 40 lbs. of honey in the brood boxes to feed them. Along with those 40 lbs of honey, we also filled a frame feeder with sugar syrup to help supplement the bees’ feed source. Next we needed to consider a way to keep them warm.

We found that very few beekeepers in our area move their bees indoors for the winter. Studies show that even when it is -40 C outside, a bee colony will cluster around its queen, and the middle of that cluster will be +35 C, definitely warm enough to keep the colony healthy.

After buying Styrofoam insulation to cut to the exact specifications of the hive, winter snuck up on us quickly, so we had to improvise to something that would work temporarily until we had time to cut the Styrofoam.

We wrapped the hive with silver bubble wrap insulation, cutting holes to keep the top and bottom entrances open. It is very important to keep the top entrance open to prevent the hive from getting too humid, as humidity is very dangerous to the health of a honeybee colony.

Our intention was to leave the bubble wrap insulation on until this premature October snowfall melted away, after which we would install our perfectly measured and cut Styrofoam. As those of us from the Lloydminster area know, that premature snow stayed… and stayed… and stayed…

The bubble wrap worked beautifully. We took the Ski-Doo out to our bee site many times during the winter, and we were always happy to see a nicely wrapped hive with one or two dead bees lying outside the entrance. A few dead bees outside the hive must mean live bees inside, because bees clean up their hive and will carry any dead ones out.

We visited the bees on April 7 and found that they were flying in and out of the hive for cleansing flights. It was very strange to be sitting in the snow in negative temperatures, listening to the buzz of bees flying overhead!

The hive appeared to be thriving. We would top up their sugar syrup feeder to make sure there would be enough food until the flowers start to bloom. What we found inside were bees that appeared to be healthy and clustered in a swarm, presumably surrounding the queen. We quickly topped up their frame feeder and closed the hive again to avoid getting them too chilled.

Our very quick hive check let us know a few things:

  •  There are a lot of live bees in the hive.
  •  The bees are active.
  •  They still have frames of capped honey in the hive that they haven’t eaten yet, so food supply isn’t a problem at this time. And…
  •  My bee suit over my snowsuit makes me look fat.

We are very happy with the bees’ success over the winter, and looking forward to year two of beekeeping! †

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