In mid-November, like a pointed glance with tapping of wrist, the first snowfall reminded us that we were late in preparing the hives for winter. Now, the ekes atop our hives, holding several layers of moisture-absorbing wool batting and a crowning inch-thick insulating foam board, are kept in place year round and the wood of the hives is twice as thick as that usually used. So the hives themselves receive minimal attention, just covering the shiny rooves with something black and closing off extra entrances. The one major undertaking, due to the windiness of their location, has been the erection of a wall of bales to block the winds. This year we decided to try something different, insulating the sides with foam board and black tar paper.
So it was that the following weekend found us at the DIY store obtaining the needed materials.The last time we had purchased a sheet of foam board, we too late discovered that it would not fit into the car and had to send one of us back into the store to purchase a box cutter and long metal ruler, which we then used to break the sheet into pieces we could transport. This time we came prepared and broke the sheets into a stack of two-by-four-foot sections, a workable size even though we were uncertain what exact dimensions we required or exactly how we would apply them.
Serendipitously the horizontal boards girdling and holding together each hive stand provide a rest for the foam boards at the right height for a two-foot high section to come slightly below the roof bottom. Trimming the sections to size and cutting an entrance slot in each front section, we covered each in tar paper, and taped them together to encircle the hive. Because of cleats and shutters and so forth there is a bit of air space between the hive body and the insulation boards. Still even with the the loose fit our foam boards should still help retain heat and provide relief from freezing winds and be reusable year after year. And as extra protection from cold and humidity we stuffed wool batting into the unoccupied section of each hive.
The hives in their monogrammed winter black are shown at left, warded against winter’s attacks, the freezing temperatures and biting winds, and looking rather silly with no snow or ice to be seen. As we hurried to implement our plans to protect the hives the weather got warmer and the snow melted. But we assured ourselves that the cold weather would return soon. As it did. But only briefly before returning to atypically warmer temperatures, lately not even deigning to dip below freezing at night and during the day warm enough for shirtsleeves.
Warm enough for the girls to be flying most days, consuming the stores that were to last them through a cold inactive winter and returning without nectar. Since we can not stop them from being active we have set up a bench with four Boardman feeders about sixty feet away from the hives. The syrup is two parts sugar to one of water with a little lemony-smelling Pro Health to attract the foragers.
Our plan seems to be working as the buffet is enthusiastically attended by our girls but how well does it work? Are we sustaining them or have we only slowed the rate at which they deplete their stores? At least we have not seen them return with pollen, which would suggest inauspicious brood being reared. To be a beekeeper is to worry. And currently we worry that this kindly warm spell is treacherously crueler to the honeybees than an honest Fimbulwinter.