The gradual descent of daytime temperatures had a brief reversal this last weekend so we decided it was a good opportunity to check on Dorcas and winterize all the hives. She remains our smallest colony but seemed large enough to be viable with good stores of honey, bees still bringing in pollen, and with more brood than we expected this late. Even after the repeated fogging treatments Dorcas had a mite count of 4 per hundred bees. Very much improved but still not as low as we would have liked. We considered fogging again but, since we had her open anyway, we decided to quickly make a batch of the old, reliable oxalic syrup and dribble between the bars with a syringe, as we have before.

After treating Dorcas we still had a lot of our half liter of syrup left so we proceeded to just treat Beatrix and Clarissa as well without even bothering with a sugar roll. We were less concerned about these hives since they had not had disastrous counts thus far and had received the same fogging treatments as Dorcas. As we had come to expect, the bees did not mind having the syrup drizzled on them and were not bothered by our cracking all those propolized bars apart. But they became quite agitated, flying up in buzzing clouds, when we opened a gap into where the brood chamber was. Perhaps, they also were not quite done rearing brood. We worked briskly and the bees settled down.

The rest of the winterizing did not upset them. For each hive we taped a bit of window screen over the hole in the follower, filled the closet with loose wool after evicting the few loitering bees, and restored all the bars, eke, roof. Then it was time for the insulating panels, ever a source of annoyance.

We have described the general procedure before but perhaps never vented about the irritations. In theory, one cuts foam insulation panels to form a tidy, rectangular box around the hive, covers them with tar paper & duct tape, and uses more duct tape to hold them together. In practice, the tar paper is hard to fold neatly over the panels so they likewise do not fit together as neatly as desired, leaving vertical gaps between them. All of this gets addressed with duct tape so that the installation procedure is much fussier than envisioned and, of course, the duct tape seams do loosen over the winter requiring reapplication, which never seems to hold as well as the original, which was not that well, truth be told. And then a few years later the duct tape holding the tar paper gives way requiring rewrapping.

We are always trying to improve the process, to make it less fussy and more reliable. This year we tried using construction adhesive to hold the tar paper on the foam panels but without success. It may be a workable idea with leisure and space to press each covered panel between weights overnight but the stuff did not spread well and took too long to set or cure to fit in our timetable, leaving us with a few smeary messes before we abandoned the experiment for the familiar duct tape.

Perhaps not quite the familiar duct tape. We obtained some heavy-duty version in black. It stuck very well to itself as it twisted and folded when we tried to tear or cut off a piece. It also stuck readily to our fingers to aid in the twisting and folding process. It stuck less well to the tar paper but mostly adequately. We had a few rubber rollers this year to flatten anywhere it showed signs of separating from the paper.

Our innovation of the year was to cut tar paper to make hinges between the panels. Any vertical gapping between panels would be better covered by such a hinge than by strips of duct tape. We shall see how things last.

And so winterizing our full-sized hives was completed but for covering their shiny rooves with black, another slightly fussy operation, which we shall perform on another day. Since Frankie is unoccupied and so in no need of winterizing that left the tower of nae-sa-wee Angharad, our nucleus hive of the Langstroth persuasion. Three deep boxes tall, we covered the slot in her inner cover with a bit of screen, added another box above it, and filled the box with loose wool. We then cut a piece of foam insulation to fit inside the telescoping cover and topped the pile. Rather than prepare more panels we covered her with a jacket for insulating water heaters and then dropped and taped a black trash bag over the lot.

We dithered over providing an upper entrance, as seems to be the general practice here, but opted against. The aim is to avoid humidity condensing on the roof and dripping onto the bees. An upper entrance does this by venting the humid air, losing a bit of warmth along with the moisture. We prefer to trust in hygroscopic material to absorb the moisture and insulate the roof so condensation occurs down the walls of the hive.

The remaining argument for upper entrances is to allow the bees egress should snow or accumulated dead bees block the usual entrance. We have no particular solution for this but vigilance.