Preparing our beehive for winter

Hmmm…

We noticed the hive is starting to list to one side. And also a bit forward.  Why?

Honey!  Lots of honey!

Honey is very heavy, and a successful hive will (of course) have lots of it. Honey is bee food and the colony will need it to get through the winter. That is one reason we decided not to do a fall harvest.  We want to make sure the bees will have enough food to get them through the cold winter months when there isn’t much blooming.

Winterizing our top bar hive

Lots of honey – capped and uncapped. We have bar after bar that looks much like this one.

Ray decided to run down to the local box store, buy some lumber and screws, and shore up the hive.  We figure screws would be a bit less disruptive to the hive than hammering in some nails.  Knowing this, when we build our next (second) top bar hive this winter in anticipation of buying another package of worker bees and a queen this spring, we will make the stand a bit more sturdy.  Of course, when you think about it, we are lucky to have such a problem!

Getting a Kenyan Top Bar Hive ready for winter

Boards were screwed into all four sides, to help shore up our Kenyan Top Bar Beehive, and stop it from listing to one side. Since we used screws and not nails, the bees didn’t seem to be disturbed at all!

Liz, a homesteader in Australia and author of “Eight Acres“, has featured our beekeeping journey on her blog today with a question and answer post!  You can read about why Ray and I decided to keep bees and our reasons for choosing to use a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive over at eightacres dot blogspot dot com.  See you there!

Last month we had quite a scare with the hive.  We noticed a lot of activity around the hive with bees landing on and crawling all over the roof of the hive, along with a lot of loud buzzing.  At first we thought it was just the drones again.  Those guys make a lot of noise when they take their afternoon stroll around the neighborhood, but after a while we started to realize that the commotion had nothing to do with the drones.

Our hive was under attack!

How did we know?  I was watching the entrance of the hive and suddenly was witness to a death wrestle – three bees all wrestling in a ball, falling off the entrance ledge to the ground in front of the hive.  When the match was over, one bee was left on the ground, obviously mortally wounded, another flew to a nearby plant, also with mortal wounds. It became obvious, once we realized what was happening, that the bees crawling on the roof and sides of the hive were not our bees, and they were looking for another entrance into the hive. Our hive was under attack from another colony of honey bees!  To make matters worse, there were several yellow jackets flying just above ground level under the hive!

All summer long, we had been battling the yellow jackets.  We had seen several unfortunate honeybees taken away by yellow jackets, and so we set up traps all over the homestead to reduce their numbers.  We were successful in keeping the yellow jacket population low with both store-bought and home-made traps, but it was not our intention to kill all of them.  Though they are a menace, they kept the bugs and caterpillars in our garden to a minimum.  Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good.

But, we never thought we would have problems with another colony of honeybees!

The entrance to our top bar hive was already reduced, due to the attacks by yellow jackets, so we weren’t sure exactly what to do.  I ran to my laptop and did a quick google search and found that the first thing to do was to reduce the size of the hive entrance even more, so that only one bee at a time could squeeze through the hive opening.  If that didn’t work, we could throw a wet sheet over the hive that would confuse the attacking bees and help to isolate the hive for a day or so, until the attackers gave up.

So, Ray reduced the entrance.  We did see a few more wrestling matches and were thinking that we should start preparing a sheet, but then the loud angry buzzing stopped, the guard bees retreated into the hive, and the whole attack seemed to be over.

Preparing Top Bar Hive for Winter

The reduced entrance into the beehive – just big enough for one bee. It’s probably warmer inside also, which is just fine for the winter!

Whew!

And the yellow jackets?  After the honeybee attack was over, the yellow jackets left also! Apparently the yellow jackets were attracted by the loud buzzing and somehow knew that there was going to be “fresh meat” to eat.  Strange how mother nature works, but I never did see a yellow jacket actually attack a bee or the hive.  They only seemed to go after the bees that were already dying on the ground in front and under the hive. Easy pickin’s. Once everything was said and done, there was no evidence of the carnage that took place!

After reading about how two separate hives can literally kill each other off – by stinging each other until their numbers are so low that neither hive can survive the winter – I had nightmares for the next few nights!  

Apparently the attackers were feral bees.  Our homestead is basically in a forest and the few neighbors that we have, do not have beehives.  Bees will fly up to four miles to forage, but I really don’t think anyone within four miles of us has a beehive!  That is why I assume these were feral bees. Which makes me wonder where their hive is!  From what I have read, feral bees can be the strongest bees to have because they are acclimated to the area and have overcome some of the problems modern-day beekeepers have with mites, fungi and such!  Maybe we should think about finding and capturing the hive… or not. The attacking colony must not have produced as much honey as ours, or they wouldn’t risk losing their entire colony to rob another.  Food for thought.

Kenyan Top Bar Beehive

Our first snow of the season!

In the meantine, winter is finally starting to poke it’s head around here.  We got a decent snowfall last weekend and may get some more tomorrow.  We usually don’t get a lot of snow here on the homestead, but this being an el nino year, we just might get buried! There isn’t much more we need to do to take care of the hive for the winter.  Since the entrance is so small already, we decided against placing hardware cloth on it to exclude mice.  And since we didn’t harvest any honey, there should be plenty in the hive to get the girls through until springtime.  Our preference is to let the hive live as naturally as possible, so we will only add sugar water toward the end of winter (before the nectar flow) if an inspection reveals they need more food to survive. We did stack a few rows of firewood in front of the hive to give it a little bit of a windbreak, and we still have a bit more cordwood to split and stack, so the “windbreak” will get just a bit higher (not too high to exclude sunlight) and a few rows thicker. Since this firewood will not be cured in time to use it this winter, the bees can enjoy the windbreak until next winter.

The last few mornings I have noticed one, two or even three dead bees on the entrance board to the hive.  I assume this is natural as bees have a fairly short lifespan.  The workers clean house by removing their dead sisters from the hive.  Normally they would carry them off at least a few feet from the entrance, but since it is so cold they are reluctant to fly and instead are just kicking the bodies out to the front doorstep.  At least, that’s what I assume is happening.  There are no other signs of trouble and it is now too cold to open the hive to see what’s going on inside.

Now it’s just time to let the girls be on their own through the winter.  We sure hope we have done a good job of keeping our first hive strong, but our final results won’t be known until next spring.

So, come on winter!  We are as prepared as we think we should be with regard to our top bar beehive.  Of course, it seems everything else around the homestead is in total chaos, but then that’s another story.

Stay tuned!

Don’t forget to visit Liz on her blog, “Eight Acres”, for more information about beekeeping!

 

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