Check Winter Food Stores
How much honey they need to get through the winter will depend on your specific climate, so it’s worth talking with other local beekeepers. Here in Alberta, beekeepers like their bees to have between 80 and 90 pounds of honey and a few frames of pollen. Pollen is necessary for the queen to raise small batches of brood and for spring build up.
Since the Beecentric Hive uses medium boxes for brood and honey, I generally overwinter in three boxes; two honey filled boxes on top and a bottom box that will have some honey and the clustering bees. I have wintered colonies on two boxes many times.
As Micheal Bush says in Practical Beekeeping “the best time to feed your bees is never.” because they have all the honey that they need. I like to leave the bees with enough honey to get them through the winter. While sugar will work, it’s not the same thing as honey, but if your bees are going into winter without resources, you’ll need to feed them.
Reducing Disease and Stress Load
One of the biggest things you can do it make sure that your hive is going into winter with as little disease and stress as possible. Healthy bees will be able to cluster and manage the internal environment much better than stressed ones. Larger overwintering clusters have a smaller surface area to volume ratio and conserve heat more effectively than smaller clusters.
Insulating The Beecentic Hive Top-Quilt
Unlike most conventional hives with solid inner and outer covers, the Beecentric Hive has a Warre inspired quilt-box. Filling the top-quilt with insulation will keep your hive warm in the winter and cool in the summer while still offering adequate ventilation for the colony. The primary purpose of the quilt is to hold in the warmth and to reduce condensation on the upper surface of the hive.
If that warm moist air meets a thin cold surface or an open bee escape hole, it will condense and dump cold liquid water back onto the cluster. Bees can tolerate extremely low temperatures while dry, but if you wet them in cold temperatures, they will die.
The vertical sides represent about 25% of the total heat loss with the remaining heat [75%] exiting from the top. – Beeculture.com
For best results, fill the top-quilt with dry organic material like straw or woodchips. My current favourite medium is wood shavings available at most pet stores. Make sure to fill the quilt box but to leave the bedding fluffy as it’s the air trapped within the medium that insulates the hive. Since you can pull the vented roof off without opening the hive, you can check the bedding in the middle of winter; it should always be nice and dry.
As a pro-tip, add your bedding to an old pillowcase and place the pillowcase into the quilt-box. Using a pillowcase will allow you to add or remove the bedding with little mess and give you the option on peeking under the pillowcase to peek in on your bees without opening the hive up (not recommended when cold outside).
One More (Optional) Step
There’s a little over 4 inches of room there which is lots of space to add bedding. The key is that you want to fill it up will still be light and fluffy. The bees are going to make a lot of warm, and moist air and it will be able to slowly work its way through the quilt without condensing and raining back down on the bees.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can staple a layer of reflective wrap under the vented roof that will reflect escaping radiant heat towards the quilt. This reflective layer only works if there’s an air gap between the insulation in the quilt-box and vented roof – which there will be since you won’t overfill the quilt.
Reducing the Entrances for Winter
Since the quilt-box acts as ventilation, it’s not necessary to keep the top entrance open, so I like to close it off by tipping it 90 degrees. When the weather warms in the spring, and the bees are in the upper box, I will tip it open to allow access for cleansing flights. This is not necessary but a nice option to have.
Wrapping A Beecentric Hive for Winter
Most commercial hive wraps have an R-value of 8 which is, coincidentally, a little warmer than the walls of a typical hollow tree trunk. You can buy eight frame bee wraps online, or you can make your own with fibreglass, Rockwool, or rigid foam.
Making Your Hive Wrap
To build my hive wraps, I custom cut a panel for each of the hive’s four sites. If I’m using Rockwool or fibreglass batons, I wrap each panel in a black construction grade bag and seal the ends with tuck tape. You can achieve the same thing with rigid foam wrapping each piece in black tarpaper like four presents. In both cases, I use bungee cords to secure the panels to the side of the hive.
Back and Side Panels
Insulate from the bottom of the bottom board to the bottom of the vented roof where it sits over the top quilt.
Insulted from the top of the bottom entrance to the bottom of the top entrance. Having a shorter panel on the front will keep the bottom entrance open (large entrance reducer on) and allow for fresh air to enter the hive from the below. This technique also allows you to access the top entrance and to tip it open in the spring.
Elise Watson, of ABC Bees in Calgary, put together an excellent overwintering guide for hives in Alberta. The guide is for 10 Frame langstroth hives is still very useful for anyone using a Beecentric Hive. Winterization Guide for Beekeeping
I quoted the Beeculture.com article, “Winter Management” by William Hesbach above. The article is refreshing as it uses honeybee biology and the physics of natural beehives as a template for overwintering honeybee colonies. Winter Managment