Winter Prep In New Brunswick
While winter can be harsh on our girls, but there are somethings we do to help them make it through. Winter prep looks differently across the country so if you're in a different climate, take these tips more as a method only. Maybe you won't need them all, and maybe you will find a new step by step to success!
To give you an idea of our season, here's a quick overview. *Note: Your season timeline may differ, and the intensity of winter may differ from what we get.
August - Weekly inspections and begin to think about feeding and treatments. Pick up supplies!
September - Pull the honey supers and get them some food! Treatments begin now if not already started.
October - Feed! Feed! Feed! And finalize treatments.
November - Keep feeding, and if weather permits, treat one last time as brood rearing slows drastically. Depending on weather, wrap and get ready for spring.
It sounds crazy, but winter prep starts in August. If you have a one or two hives, this may not be necessary but feeding will happen soon. For a couple hives, making and filling feeders isn't a problem, but nonetheless you'll need some 2:1 sugar water and a minimum of a gallon or 2 per hive to place on them once you pull the honey supers.
Most beekeepers in NB will pull honey supers from the hive no later than beginning to mid-September. Once you do, now is the time to feed and treat. Begin by feeding 2:1 syrup with Fumagillin B. This is an antibiotic used to treat Nosema. It attacks the active parasites in the bee's digestive tract that produce the disease. At our apiary, we use it in a powder form and mix into the first gallon of feed per hive.
At the same time, Mites! Every beekeeper's nightmare! These little guys will destroy a hive with incredible speed if not kept in check. They feed off developing larva, and the adult bees within the hive. They cause all kinds of problems. For more on these pests, check out:
We've used 2 types of treatments so far: Oxalic Acid and Formic Acid. Below is a really high level, simplified comparison of the two methods we've used. Both work well, and serve distinctive purposes and should be a tool in your box.
Oxalic is great because it is quick, easy to apply, and really effective. Depending on time constraints, this may not be for you. Treatments are weekly for minimum of 3 weeks. It does have a bit of a higher initial cost because you need to buy the equipment to use it. If you go this route, you'll need:
1. A Vaporizer
2. An Automotive Battery
3. Safety Equipment
Some groups like the CBA, https://www.centralbeekeepers.com/ allow members to use the equipment the club owns. The CBA has 1 or 2 units so smaller keepers have access to this great tool without any major investment outside of annual membership fees.
Formic Acid on the other hand can come prepackaged. For this you will need only some safety equipment. The downfall here is that it is more expensive on a per treatment over the years you may spend beekeeping. But worse than the additional cost, is the temperature dependence of this treatment. If you use this method, summer treatments aren't available without extreme care. Anything over 28°C and you risk damaging the hive and queen.
To use this method, you simply place the strips in the hive, and walk away for the allotted time. A full treatment is over the 10 day time frame for regular inspections so it makes a great winter treatment as they should be slowing down and swarming will be almost nonexistent. Likewise, early spring this is a great treatment.
Keep feeding but be sure to remove food (in top feeders) for mite treatments. Move on to the next step when they've taken all they can, and they have a minimum of 60lbs of food. Are they heavy? yes? good!
Usually on the last really nice day in November we prepare our hives with one last resource. Sugar!
We over winter our hives with a deep and a medium box. We've found this to be a good balance of space and food reserves between the old single deep or double deep debate. So, the final step is raw sugar in the top.
To do this, we open the hive, place a sheet of newspaper over the back 1/2 of the top box. This allows air flow to continue out of the hive through the upper entrance. We use a winter ring or spacer and place that on the top box. Next, pour sugar onto the newspaper as evenly as you can. From here, place the inner cover back on with the upper entrance open. (we use a deep inner cover)
Placing the sugar on later keeps the bees from carrying it out of the hive. Raw sugar isnt something they like laying around. It attracts pests like ants and isn't really usable by the bees unless some moisture is in it, and this is the exact reason we do this. Sugar is dry, and attracts moisture if placed in a damp area.
Moisture kills bees throughout the winter. (and fast) Bees do well in our cold Canadian climate but can't keep warm when wet. So, moisture in the hive means a damp hive, and a dead one. Reason one to add this sugar, it pulls that moisture into the block and away from the bees.
Second reason? As the moisture is absorbed by the sugar it becomes edible. So, what was placed in the hive as something to help keep the girls dry, now becomes insurance and late food supply pending a cool spring drags on and you can place feed onto the hive.
Last step, wrap them. There are dozens of techniques I'm sure we will fill another blog page with someday. We use a black tar paper because it is easy. Black attracts the sun's heat and a full sheet wrapped around a hive stops the draft, if there is one.
While we wrap them, we place a sheet of newspaper over the hole in the inner cover. We use a deep inner cover that allows us to fill it with some locally collected wood shavings/sawdust. This is great as an insulator, but also is dry and will pull moisture into it as well.
Some use mouse guards, and others use bee cozy's, or styrofoam insulation. As long as they are fed, and kept from the weather, there's no real wrong way to do it. As always, if you ask 10 beekeepers the same question, you'll get 11 answers. If you are a beekeeper, leave some tips in our comments! We'd love to test some of your methods in the future years!