In today’s lesson, I’ll teach about package bees, and share a detailed teaching on wrapping hives for winter along with a video of how to do it.
LESSON 86: PACKAGE BEES & WINTER WRAPPING A HIVE
Tens of thousands of packages of bees are shipped to beekeepers throughout the US every year. Bees have been shipped through the postal service for over 100 years and is very successful. Some speak poorly about the stressed placed on bees shipped through packages and suggest that local nucs are better. I’ve addressed this in previous lessons. Our great country provides us with various climates. The southern climate allows us to get a jump on raising bees and queens for northern beekeepers. This has always been the motivation for providing packages, and northern beekeepers have always been grateful. Packages can be produced in early April in the southern states, but nucs aren’t available in northern states until May-June.
All of the southern package producers that I know work hard to make winter hardy stock queens. I’m also a nuc provider so I understand why some people prefer nucs. However, I love packages! I remember when I received my first 2 packages in the mail. Wow! What an exciting time. I thought it was the coolest thing that the post office delivered my bees to me, and they did great.
NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT WINTER WRAPPING A HIVE
Typically, bees do not need to be wrapped for winter. We are in central Illinois and our hives get along fine with open bottom boards and no wrap. Bees do not heat the inside of their hives like we do our homes. Instead, bees do not heat the inside of their hive, they only keep their cluster warm. Parts of the hive away from the cluster are as cold as it is outside.
Even with your best winter preparations, it will not be enough if your bees have a mite infestation or are lacking stored honey. Make sure your colony is disease free and is not infested with varroa or tracheal mites. Then, make sure your hive has an ample supply of stored honey and pollen. A winter hive wrap is useless if these important things go unchecked.
Something negative happens when a hive is wrapped. The extra wrap can allow the bees to warm the inside of their hive so much that on a very cold day, excessive moisture will accumulate on the inner cover or top cover. This cold water will drip down on the bees, causing them to become too cold and wet, and eventually perish. The excessive moisture in the hive can also cause the growth of mold and bacteria.
Two precautions must be taken when wrapping a hive for winter: 1) The hive must be given an upper entrance. This is especially necessary in regions that receive several feet of snow per year. The upper entrance will allow the bees to take cleansing flights even if the hive is buried in a snow drift. 2) The hive must have upper ventilation. Upper ventilation will help deplete away excess moisture condensation from the top of the hive.
We now make a special spacer that has the upper ventilation and upper entrance all in one. We are selling the winter spacer with black wrap paper for $10 and what is neat is that they also accommodate our winter candy boards. CLICK HERE TO ORDER. In the video below, I will demonstrate how the candy board sits directly on top of the upper vent/entrance spacer. And this spacer can also be used so provide space for pollen patty feedings or bags of sugar water as well. It can also be used when medicating your hives. These spacers have lots of uses! Enjoy the video on wrapping hives.
I’ve chosen to use a very common material known as roofing paper or black tar paper available at most home improvement stores. A common width is 36”. I like 36 inches because most hives are two hive bodies deep which means the hive is approximately 22” tall. However if the hive has a super, it makes it about 28 inches tall, and two supers puts it right at about 36 inches tall. So for the purpose of this hive, 36” width is perfect.
Next, cut your piece of roofing paper at around 80-85” long. This will allow you to wrap it around your hive and overlap. Overlapping a few inches is critical, especially in windy places. If the wind starts to pull the paper, it could rip it off over the course of a windy winter.
It is important to insert your front entrance reducer, your top entrance spacer and place your candy board on for added food.
Your bottom entrance reducer should be on its smallest setting. The entrance on the upper spacer can face the front or the back. I place it in the front so that I can work my bees from the back.
Now we are ready to wrap. Start on one side and use a hand stapler to fasten the paper to the hive. If you are concerned about staple holes, you can use duct tape or gorilla glue. Wrap the paper along the side, and around the back, stapling as you go, along the other side and across the front. If the bees are flying, you will disrupt their landing and take off and they might let you know about it. You can also wait until a much colder day when the bees are inside and clustered.
You’ll notice I had to notch a small cutout for the opening in the front, both at the bottom and at the top. Once the paper is stapled or taped down, you can put your top on. It might fit tight, but just make sure you get the paper under the lid to help hold it down tightly in high winds.
You’ll notice the top entrance is just below the lip of the top cover minimizing rain and snow from going directly in. However, small amounts of weather will not bother the bees in this upper placement.
You did it, and it looks nice. You’ve given your bees an upper entrance/exit and you’ve given them a nice upper vent. And you’ve wrapped your hive to help keep out excessive winds that might leak through cracked and broken boxes.
Although we rarely wrap out hives, we do enjoy experimenting to see if wrapping does make a difference. So the hive in the picture/video is one that we’ll follow along all winter to see how it does. The queen in this hive has some very unique characteristics in storing honey and pollen, and so we are anxious to observe her overwintering skills. This hive is a 5 year old survival hive that has not been treated with any medication for the last 5 years. It had mites all year, but no signs of infestation and no apparent negative effect. It does not have tracheal mites going into winter. Currently the cluster is very low in the hive with about 60 pounds of honey on board.
Thanks for joining us for another lesson in beekeeping. Our next lesson will be an extensive lesson on Varroa Mites. See you then.
Here’s our contact information:
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
14556 N. 1020 E. Rd
Fairmount, IL 61841
CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST: www.honeybeesonline.com/studiobeelive.html
See ya next time,
EAS Certified Master Beekeeper