In the last post we went into detail about the difficulties of the panel wrapping and taping procedure to insulate our hives. This year was the worst ever. Not only did we have all the problems of which we wrote but the day after we took the glamour shot of the hives in their new winter finery the duct tape already started to release its grip. We taped down the tape in response but to little avail. We would always need to apply some extra tape on a few occasions throughout a winter but never so soon nor so much. Unsticking faster than any season before, a mere week later loose tape ends were flapping on slouching panels like a bad complexion on a sullen teen.

Except for nae-sa-wee Angharad. The tape seemed to cling quite well to the trash bag covering her as opposed to the tar paper on the other hives, a thicker paper than we had used before. So, once again taking advantage of a favorable break in the cold and rain, we removed the panels, stripped them of the tar paper, recovered them with black plastic sheeting, and retaped. We considered using black trash bags as we had for Angharad but the panels did not quite fit well within and we would need much more cutting and taping. Easiest to just begin with the sheeting we had once bought for smothering weeds.

Weeks later the tape is holding and the hives still look neat and tidy. Lesson learned. And someday soon we shall cover the rooves.

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.

SeeItWasColdIn 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.

HivesWrappedThe 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.