Get your hives ready for an Arizona Winter
Last night’s Arizona Backyard Beekeepers meeting was all about making sure we are ready to get our hives through the winter months.
It sounds a little crazy when you say “winter” in central Arizona. We don’t have mounds of snow or freezing rain, and we usually can get by most days without a coat. But if you have lived here for any length of time, you know that our temps can get down into the 40’s at night, and we have been known to even arrive in the 20’s on rare occasions. December and January can also bring most of our rainfall, though not this past year.
With those chilly, damp nights our bees can be in danger of dying from the cold, even if it doesn’t freeze. What happens is that the heat the bees are producing to maintain their ideal living conditions causes the heat and moisture to rise in the hive. It then hits the cold top and all the moisture condenses, kind of like a mini water cycle in our atmosphere. That condensed water then “rains” down into the hive making it a cold, wet environment that can kill your colony. It’s something that is often a sad surprise to new beekeepers, but can be prevented with proper hive management in the fall.
Thank you, Roy Arnold, for sharing everything we need to know to help our bees thrive through the winter.
As beekeepers, our number one objective is to maintain strong, healthy hives. This means hives that have 5-6 frames of bees per box, solid brood patterns, and 4-5 frames of food per box. In the fall, it may be necessary to take frames from your strongest hives and add them to your weak hives to give them a boost. That’s one advantage of having more than one hive.
Start in September or October for a strong spring hive.
1. Treat for Varroa Mites (Click HERE for a thorough overview of varroa management).
- You can do a mite count with an alcohol wash or the powdered sugar method, or you can just choose to treat as a precaution
- Alternate treatments from spring to fall to reduce the mite’s resistance and to limit the chemical residue your treatment could leave in the comb. There are a number of organic treatments out there. Oxalic acid, Formic Acid, and Hopguard are good options, but must be used carefully. Roy discussed the different applications but made sure to note that if you have a plastic hive, you must be extra careful using the oxalic acid vaporizer because you can melt your hive–yikes!
- If queens are available and you have a hive with a queen that is a year old, this is a great time to replace her.
- A new, properly-mated queen will help your hive to build fast and be ready for the spring nectar flow. If you wait until the spring, you may not be able to find a queen when you need her.
3. Feed Your Bees
Feeding bees is important to build weak hives and maintain strong ones. The goal is to have all frames built out with comb and to have half brood and half food stored, often that means breaking the hive down to one box. If you have anything less, then feeding is imperative to help bees get through the winter strong. Starting in November, bees should not have liquid food inside the hive. This can cause mold and condensation which will kill the colony.
- Feed with 1:1 sugar syrup September-November to build numbers if low
- Feed with pollen patties, sugar blocks, and dry pollen substitute December-February
4. Weatherize your Hive
Bees use energy to keep warm in the winter and they get that energy from consuming food stores, primarily carbohydrates in the form of sugar or honey. The better they can maintain the proper temperature (~95° F) the less food they must consume and the more they can go about raising brood.
- Make sure your hive does not have a lot of unused space. This may mean breaking it into one box and distributing the extra comb to weaker hives.
- Use a quilt box on top with shredded paper to absorb moisture. Be sure to change it out if the paper gets damp.
- Have upper exits and ventilation holes in all hives.
- Use your small entrance reducer.
- Make sure the hive is tilted slightly toward the bottom entrance so any moisture can exit the bottom board.
- When nighttime temperatures are 40° F, use incandescent Christmas lights wrapped around the bottom below the entrance on the exterior of the hive. You can leave them on 24 hours a day for pennies a day.
- Use a heating pad on a rheostat set at 70°-75° F in the bottom of your hive (use a reptile heating pad).
- Make sure there are no cracks or spaces where drafts can enter the hive and cool it. Wrapping black tar paper is a great way to do this and also allow the hive to absorb heat from the sun during the day. Don’t close off entrances. Bees in Arizona still are busy in the winter.
As beekeepers have responsibilities to our bees, to keep them healthy and safe. Sometimes we are unaware of what those responsibilities entail. That is where being part of a beekeeping community is so vital. Be sure to attend our meetings throughout the valley and take part in conversations on the Arizona Backyard Beekeepers Facebook page or whatever community you live in.
This is a fun and important job that has an impact on the entire world. Be proud of yourself for taking it on. You are amazing! -Cricket Aldridge