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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24 thoughts on “Preparing our beehive for winter

    • Yes, we were very lucky! It looked like the same thing was starting to happen again yesterday, but thankfully today is a rainy day and bees – even attacking bees – won’t fly in the rain. Whew!

  1. Excellent article! Do you think that you would modify the original plans to allow the hive to support more weight knowing what you know now? Sure would hate for that thing to fall over, or worse, get knocked over by a hungry bear. Do you have bears in your area?

    • Hello, Todd – good to hear from you! Yes, we do have bears, but not very many. Last year we saw a little cinnamon bear cub run through our orchard, and we heard a cub bawling a few years ago when some dogs treed it, and a neighbor has had his trash strewn over his property by a bear, but that’s about it. And, yes, we will be building more heavy-duty hive stands this winter! Live and learn. Have a great day, Todd!

  2. wow!! so much excitement once you start keeping bees 🙂 Sounds like maybe you are keeping up with the learning curve and your girls will be fine (crossing finger, toes and eyes!). Have a safe and quiet winter!

    • Yes, the bees are actually quite exciting. Funny, before we had them I had no idea how attached I would be – they have almost become pets to me. Of course, giving them a hug or a pet is out of the question! 🙂 A safe and quiet winter sitting near the fire, reading a book or learning to crochet would be wonderful! Unfortunately, we have some land to finish clearing for our permanent garden area (it’s easier to pull up stumps when the ground is soaked), a chicken coop to build, a few more trees to cull at our home building site and quite a few piles of brush to burn. Wanna help?

  3. Well you had an exciting month! I am looking forward to reading about your first peak at the bees after winter. We don’t get snow here, so our bees can forage all year, but the warm weather brings its own management issues, like small hive beetle. Thanks for sharing your story on my blog today 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Liz! I have heard about the small hive beetle and certainly hope we don’t get any. I do know we have wax moths because we saw the empty cocoon under the hive lid, but I have read that a healthy hive can handle them. Have a great week, Liz, and thanks again for including me in your beekeeping posts!

  4. mydiyol.blogspot.de

    Hello Vickie,
    as always an interesting report.
    I am also pleased that you so have a great contribution in the other blog.
    The honey bees to attack each other, I have not heard yet.
    I think your guess is correct.
    Since you’ve already more experience as I did.
    Just as you care for your bees, they will certainly survive the winter.
    Best regards and see you soon
    Uwe

    • Greetings, Uwe! I had never heard of one honeybee hive attacking another until I read it in a book and then it happened to us. They were after the honey. Apparently the attacking hive didn’t have enough to get through winter, so they thought they would steal honey from our hive! I am glad the attack is over. Thank for for reading today!

  5. I had no idea that bees would attack other hives of the same variety and try to take them over! I loved reading this, and am relieved that the simple solution of the narrowing the entry worked. I’m excited to hear more about your bees in the future and hope that winter goes well for them and you guys!
    Cheers,
    Jon

    • Thank you for the good wishes, Jon. I think I neglected to state in the blog that the attacking bees were after honey. Luckily, my bees are stingy and didn’t want them to have any! When winter is over and there is a good nectar flow, we will probably harvest the honey that our bees did not use during the winter. From what we have read, this is the safest time to harvest because the bees will then have the entire summer and fall to gather enough honey again to last the next winter. We prefer to do it this way because we would like to avoid feeding the bees sugar water if their honey stores get low. But, it’s all a learning experience for us right now. Have a great week, Jon!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post on Eight Acres Blog about your type of hive. Great information and I’m loving the learning curve you are on. That learning and discovering just keeps going on even after years and years of bee keeping as we have found here in Oz. They continue to challenge us and if it’s not the weather, it’s something else like robbers, lack of flowers or a variety of reasons why we sometimes have a lean year in regard to honey production. I learned to be grateful for every drop that we get from our hives because we never know what the following season will bring. I’m going to enjoy catching up on the rest of your posts over the next weeks. 🙂

    • You are certainly right, our learning curve is fairly big at this time and I am sure we won’t be experts for quite a while! We are always thinking about our bees and how we can make life for them more comfortable. In fact, I really think our family and friends are getting tired hearing us talk about the bees! I am sure we will also be truly grateful for every drop of honey we harvest also! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Sally.

  7. Beekeeping is a goal for our little homestead, hopefully this spring. I really look forward to reading more of your posts. Maybe the ferral bees were so aggressive because they can tell a harsh winter is on its way and they want to have more honey store than what is normal….who knows the mind of a bee?? Glad you were able to save your hive!!!

    • Good evening Tami! I think you are right – the feral bees thought they needed more honey for their own colony, and perhaps they can sense a harsh winter coming. Whatever the reason, we are thankful that the bees were able to fend off their attackers!

    • You can do it – really! I wasn’t sure how we would do as beekeepers, but surprisingly, we haven’t killed them yet! I will warn you, however, that it’s easy to get attached to your bees so much that you think of them as pets. Seriously – I think the more people who try beekeeping, the better chance the European honeybee (as a species) will have for survival!

  8. I really enjoy reading about your journey Vickie and I would be losing sleep worrying about the hive too after all this work! We had some losses on our farm this week and I am on high alert… Thank you for sharing this on the Art of Home-Making Mondays! 🙂

    • No one likes to lose – especially critters and animals they care for! I hope your losses weren’t too dear. Thanks for the comment and also for all the advice you share on your wonderful blog!

  9. I love reading about bee keeping. I don’t think I would be able to do it, but I find it very interesting and I love honey 🙂 and thankful for the beekeepers who provide it.

    • We would make a good partnership – I’ll keep the bees and you can raise the sheep! Suddenly I got a vision of very sticky wool 😉 Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Sandra!

  10. This was a completely interesting post to me, as I knew nothing about beehives prior to this! I am allergic to bees and yellowjackets so therefore I am absolutely terrified…and I think you’re very brave! I’ll be interested to see how your first hive does through the winter.

    • I was a bit nervous about getting stung in the beginning, so I let Ray do a lot of the work. He did it bare handed! After working with the bees for a while, I became less nervous, to the point I became careless and ended up getting stung! Ouch – that hurt! She got me right on my eyebrow! I survived, but I think, just to be safe, we will get an Epi-Pen from our doctor. By the way, a couple weeks after the bee sting a yellow jacket got into my glove – when I was wearing it – and got me! At this point I’m not sure which one hurt more! So, the truth is, I’m a bit of a scardy-cat again when it comes to the bees! Maybe I will do better this next season.

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