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Advice on wintering please for a newbie in SEQld


#1

Hi. Before I start, I am aware that it’s best to talk to a local beekeeping club or apiarists about recommendations for wintering. My issue is that I live in the mountains/hinterlands behind the Gold Coast which has a slightly colder climate to the coast (where the beekeeping club is). I am trying to get in contact with local apiarists on my mountain (none are flow hives that I know of), and I have been reading up general advice on wintering, but I wouldn’t mind getting some advice specific to my situation on this forum in the meantime.

Our climate here is borderline sub-tropical/warm temperate: Min temperatures over winter are usually between 5-10 degC, but have been known to occasionally get down to 2-4 degC. We don’t get frost on our property as we are on top of a hill, but some neighbours do. Max temperatures are usually around 15-20 degC. Winter is our dry season and we usually get a decent number of clear days and not too much rain. We also do have some plants that bloom during late winter and some that are just starting to bloom now.

My hive is new, established in early October of last year. They’ve had some disease issues and aren’t as strong as they probably could be, but the brood box is chock-full of bees at least. I didn’t think they had started storing in the flow super at all (so figured the easy solution was just to take the super off over winter) but I opened them up about a week ago and they had probably the equivalent of about 1.5-2 flow frames of capped honey (spread over the centres of the middle 3-4 frames). They also had the equivalent of about 3.5-4 frames of capped honey in the brood box, spread over multiple frames. They are still bringing in pollen at least as of yesterday.

Given our climate isn’t super-cold in winter, I’m not sure what the best approach is for wintering. Is there a potential queen-desertion issue given the temps aren’t ridiculously cold and there isn’t a huge amount of honey in the super anyway? Is there even enough honey worth leaving the super on for? If not, when should I remove it, given they are still bringing in food (pollen at least, not sure about how to tell if they are still bringing in nectar). Should I go through the hassle of extracting the small amount of honey in the super (which I’ve never done before), removing it and feeding it back? Could I remove the super without extraction and just clean and store the frames of capped honey ready to give back to them in Spring(?) (and just regularly feed sugar syrup over winter)? I’m also not totally sure about how much honey they need to see them through winter, given the temperatures don’t get super cold, and also I know we do get some blooms over early and late winter and a decent number of clear days. I thought as a precaution I could feed them regardless, but I have read that this can confuse the queen into laying more brood if they don’t really need it.

I know I ideally should have taken action earlier but due to health issues I have been largely incapacitated for the last 4-6 weeks, so just need to do the best I can now to make sure my colony survives the next few months. :slight_smile: Any advice is very much appreciated!


#2

The queen desertion people speak of is not very common. I live in the Southern Highlands NSW and it rarely gets over 15C and most night are around or just under 0C during winter. I run my hives at least 2 boxes high with a queen excluder and at times have had boxes 3 high when I didnt think the honey was worth taking off. I have never had the workers move up and desert the queen. The drive to look after the queen and any brood in the hive is strong. Some workers may move up to get honey and bring some down to look after the queen and any brood but they will return in a short space fo time.
If it was me I would keep the super on with what honey they have and they should beable to make it through winter. You could also add an entrance feeder or top feeder to supplement them with sugar water or dry sugar of you think they need it.


#3

Hi Wynnie, I agree with @Eezybeez.
We are in the Byron Hinterland, a tad warmer than your place.
I would keep the flow super on, seeing that they have well accepted it and started filling. Should they need some food, they have it right there.
In our climate the bees don’t do this winter clustering as in icy places, so the queen will be ok. She usually doesn’t stop laying completely, so there are always nurse bees around.
It seems your bees already have enough stores for our winter, so with the super on, I wouldn’t feed them. They might store the sugar in your flow frames.

To be sure, on a warm day in winter, above 20C, you could have a quick check to see if there is honey in the outside frames in the brood box.

I found a hive with 1 broodbox and a half filled flow super is strong enough to overwinter here. The only hives I ever had to feed here were a couple of 6 frame nucs without the bee numbers to forest forage.

I have a couple of hives down by the beach in urban areas. They do really well in winter. It’s quite different in the mountains.

If you are concerned about empty space the bees have to keep warm, you could consider a hive mat on top of the flow frames as @JeffH recommends. I’m thinking about it for some of my hives.

Hope my ideas help you decide what to do.


#4

Hi @Webclan

I think I remember Cedar saying that the winter up in Byron is the time of peak nectar flow. I might be misquoting him, as it was years ago now. Is that your understanding and experience by any chance at lower altitudes?


#5

I only had 2 winters as a beekeeper so far, so my personal experience is as yet limited. But I know a lot of local beekeepers now and by what they say, down by the beaches, winter forage is really good, usually better than summer.
I reckon up here in the bush we get the better early spring forage.
But apparently those eucalyptus types don’t flower regularly at all. Maybe we were just lucky the last 2 years.
However, it’s mid May 2018, and most hives (not all) put on near 1kg every day. Wasn’t like that last year.
PS. I only put the hives down the beach suburbs a month ago. One is doing really well, the other, 10km down the coast, somehow got chalkbrood.

I take really precise records, so ask me again in 10 years. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


#6

Thanks @Webclan. Very interesting and good weight gain. Great that you are keeping records.


#7

Leave everything as it is and the hive will hold over winter, you will probably find them foraging over winter if the weather holds as it is now. Of course it will drop but the trend is for a mild winter on the coast and hinterland.
I’m at Coolum Beach and often visit a brother at Carrarra, his climate is much like here. Don’t feed them syrup over winter, they won’t have a need for it.
You worry about looking after you and get your health right. Sit back, relax and keep warm. The bees will do the same.
Regards


#8

Thank you everyone so much, it seems there is a pretty clear consensus that they will be ok as is and hopefully the weather will be warm enough to check on them a couple of times over the winter to make sure they haven’t run out of food. Very much appreciate the feedback :slight_smile:

@Webclan Yes, I was also planning on using some kind of insulating mat as well, as the person I bought my nuc hive from mentioned it is a good idea in winter. I think he just suggested using a piece of corflute but interested in what material you would suggest if otherwise.


#9

JeffH uses vinyl cut to size. Size means you want about an inch free to the walls around the sides, so the bees can get around.
I haven’t done it yet, but would use old vinyl that doesn’t fume any more. Guess it could be old vinyl carpet.
To avoid the fumes completely, perhaps the coreflute is a better idea.
That’s some great advice from your seller. Thanks for sharing.
I’m off to source some spare coreflute.

It also prevents the bees from attaching the inner cover to the frames. Win win. :sunglasses:


#10

It is very difficult to find anything food grade suitable for this purpose. I’ve found the bees will chew a bit at the edges of the vinyl (not food grade), but after it has been on for a while, (year or so), it gets propolised and waxed and then the bees leave it alone. I have a very old ex commercial one, which is a beauty. You can’t even tell what it is made from now it is so coated everywhere.


#11

I use a piece of hessian treated with flour and starch as suggested by Warre natural beekeeping. I have just replaced one installed in January, in preparation for winter, as the bees chew holes through over time.
Old mat can be seen on queen excluder.


#12

Thanks @liteceeper. In this link it talks of an alternative to the hessian as the thought is it might be treated in some way. What do you think? Where do you get the hessian?


#13

Thanks @Dan2. Interesting read, did not consider the possibility of hessian being treated. I sourced my hessian from a bag wholesaler as new hessian bags. My thinking was as they were new, no residue from previous use. Use them in my worm farm as well :frowning_face: will contact supplier and check on treatments to hessian, if any.


#14

Hopefully it is fine and ok to keep using and if it is made in Australia it will be a little easier to check on manufacture. I have used polythene sheet at about .14 mm and the bees don’t shred it, just seem to try to chew the edges. It is made from virgin materials, but not food grade and not particularly insulating. Once I put glad wrap (cling film) in a hive surrounding ordinary polystyrene (as an experimental space reducer). The bees shredded the glad wrap in a couple of days and then chewed great holes in the polystyrene covering the entire hive in tiny little pieces of it. It stuck to the bees as well. Presumably (hopefully) they got rid of it all.


#15

I have seen people put polystyrene trays over the top of hives for insulation. That works pretty well.


#16

Hi John, do those people use a mat of some sort above the frames, that is between the top of the frames and the tray? I have dense polystyrene in the lid (for insulation), but use a mat between the inside of the lid and the top of the frames to stop the bees building wax up from the frames and joining onto the inside of the lid.


#17

Hi Dan
They didnt use mats. THey had the tray over the lid of the hive.
Cheers
John