Mr. Neil Takes One For The Team

This past weekend, we started closing the beehives for the winter. I've been kind of dreading this--no more beekeeping fun once a week! I didn't even want to blog over the weekend, I just wanted to pretend I didn't have to close up my beekeeping fun. I noticed an interesting change in my beekeeping ability this past weekend. Normally, I am very prepared for our trips to the hives, but his past weekend I took advantage of my procrastinating nature by creating an identity on a social networking site, I just didn't want to close them up. I thought back to how excited and ready I was for the hiving of our packages and now, I delayed, delayed everything and we had to do some scrambling for materials before we went out Sunday. I'll miss visiting them and also, I'm worried that the Kitty hive doesn't have all the stores she needs to make it.

The plan when you close the hives in the northern United States is to wrap the hives with insulation, close up the bottom entrances, remove feeders, and put in a moisture board. I modified our plan somewhat. If there is anything this beekeeping adventure has taught me is that bees do not read the books and every beekeeper had a different method for dealing with their hives and with challenges that arise. Even my small mention of closing the hives in the previous post prompted a beekeeper to share in the comments their strategy of keeping their hives open a little longer and their process. And when we had the swarm this summer, I got lots of different advice from a myriad of beekeepers. I've been following what I learned in the Beekeeping Short Course, but since I figured chances are good that Kitty wouldn't survive, why not try an experiment to see if that will keep her going.

This is Kitty, she has three deep brood boxes. In theory, the top should be filled with honey stores and the bottom two should have some food and some brood cells. The top and second box both have some empty frames, which they have been slowly building out since we started feeding the homemade nectar. The top two smaller boxes are holding the bee feeding bucket. We should remove this, but we have decided to just keep filling the bucket for the time being. Above is Mr. Neil and Non Birding Bill securing the entrance reducer. We stared with a wooden one in spring, but have switched to a metal one, to prevent mice from chewing the entrance open wider and moving in for the winter. Note Mr. Neil is NOT wearing gloves. Some of what were doing required some dexterity, and he opted to offer his hands to the cause--since he really doesn't use his hands that much, right? What would a writer need his hands for?

After we secured in the entrance reducer, we wrapped a specially made insulating wrap around the hive, but we left open one small entrance hole at the top for the Kitty bees to fly in and out of if they need to. We replenished the feeder bucket and will continue to check and feed through the fall and as far into winter as we can.

We did the same with the Olga hive, but we removed the feeder bucket--she is just chock full of comb, nectar and brood. She will have no problem surviving the winter.

In both hives, we put in a pollen patty. In theory, both hives should have plenty of pollen, but you can't really see it because pollen is placed in the bottom of a cell, then covered with honey and capped off. It was recommended that we throw in a pollen patty to help if they run short on protein over winter.

When we were removing the Olga feeding bucket, there was still a small amount of nectar inside, so Mr. Neil drizzled it into the hive for the bees to clean up/eat up. Above are some syrup-covered beets. The worker in the center looks like she has a large orb like crown--she's queen of the nectar for the day.

The Kitty bees had been pretty lethargic, but Olga still had some zip left in the colony. As we were drilling and banging the hive, Olga remained true to her defensive nature...

and stung Mr. Neil. That's his third sting from the Olga hive, and he said that it really wasn't as bad as the first one. But we did need his dexterity for some of the drilling, duct taping and wrapping, so Non Birding Bill and I appreciated his noble sacrifice. I must say, true to his British background, he took the sting with dignity and barely any flailing and now wild screaming whatsoever. I took notes.

We took out the propolis trap from the Olga hive and discovered more bee art. I must say, one big complaint I have about bee supplies--it does not come with clear instructions--some of it comes with no instructions--period, you just get the item. After we finished closing the hive, Mr. Neil did some digging on the Internet and found that we used the propolis trap incorrectly but we will be ready next year. So, on the off chance any beekeeping retailers read this site: instructions with the equipment--it's a beautiful thing.

So, the hives are wrapped for winter. I'm sure I'll visit them a bit--I have to see for myself that heat from the hives will melt snow near them! But still, the season is over and it's a good six months until they will be open again and I can do things like dividing the colonies or perhaps installing new packages once again.

Man, if I'm having trouble dealing with will I be this time next year when I won't go to efforts to get the girls to over winter? The average queen is supposed to live 2 summers. It was recommended that after the second summer we let the colony die out over the following winter and start with fresh bees to help prevent the spread of mites and other diseases. How can I let them just die out over winter?