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How I winterize my bee hives

21 Nov

Propolising the hive for winter

It’s quite simple really. My winterizing philosophy is a three-pronged approach; the holy trinity of hive survival, if you will, and it goes like this:

  1. Go into winter strong: If a hive is weak, I’ll combine it with another before November using the newspaper method. If I only have one hive, I’ll combine with another bee friend. If none of the above work, then I’ll feed sugar syrup for October and November. And I DEFINITELY overwinter with 3 deeps. See my earlier post for details on overwintering with 3 deep boxes.
  2. Reduce the entrance: Using one of those wooden entrance reducers, I’ll close up the front door a bit so that the girls can better defend themselves from opportunists.
  3. Allow for ventilation: I’m of the mind that the bees best regulate their hive themselves and so my job is to allow them this ability. In other words, I leave a crack in the cover that sits on top of the screened top board and otherwise don’t insulate or tape the hive. This enables the girls to add or remove propolis depending on how much ventilation they want throughout the winter. In Albuquerque, as our temperatures vary greatly from November to March, this gives the bees the chance to decide what they need at any given time.

And that’s it. No fancy heating pads or blankets over here, because I want to support bee genetics that don’t rely on human intervention to survive the winter. It’s a bit of tough love perhaps, but my hope (for the bees) is that this non-interventionist approach builds local bee genetics that are gentle with humans but tough when it comes to surviving mites and winter.

Good luck, girls! May the strongest hives survive.


Utter Hive Destruction: Signs of a Dead Beehive

5 Sep

More gross than a thousand creepy ex-boyfriends is this: A wax moth-infested beehive.

Hive overtaken by wax moths

Two months ago, this hive was booming. But when it exuberantly swarmed in July during one of the hottest and driest summers on record in Albuquerque, we already knew the end of the story.

It goes a little something like this…

  1. First, the girls can’t/won’t/don’t raise a new queen.
  2. Next, their numbers dwindle.
  3. Then, the delicate balance of nature tips in favor of wax moths and ants and robber bees.

And thusly skin-crawling putrefaction occurs in the hive as moths build tunnels through wax comb and ants pilfer the remaining honey. It’s a race to the bottom and the few remaining worker bees struggle hopelessly like violinists on the sinking Titanic. They scurry and gather and clean but are destined for death.

Opening such a hive is a visceral endeavor for you’re not sure whether to cry or wretch. If it weren’t for a stiff drink afterwards, I’d probably do both.

A dirty landing board means the end is near.

Wax moth webbing shows they've moved in.

The few remaining bees can't keep up.

Wax moth larva crawl everywhere.

At this point, we’re focusing on our strong remaining hives and will let this one sadly languish until winter’s hard freeze. Both bees and moths will have perished then and we’ll clean and freeze for a fresh start next year.

And so the tale of this hive ends. Except that I happen to know there’s a little Lebowski on the way and that the early spring split from this hive is going strong, strong enough to survive the winter and promise new birth next year.

Entering the Hive of Doom

5 Sep

Today, I enter the infested realm, the web of neglect. Today, I open the hive of doom.

Neglect rules at the hive of doom

It’s the hive that swarmed massively and inexplicably in July like rioters late to the rave. We attempted to requeen but activity on the landing board remains dismal. By now, it’s surely failed and certainly overrun by wax moths and ants, opportunists feasting on the colony’s remains.

This afternoon, I’m donning the hazmat gear and going in… And I promise to take photos of the gory scene.

UPDATE: Gory indeed. Hold your breath and dive in!

What is the White Bee Disease?

22 May

Like ghosts, a few drones such as this one limped eerily through our hive last week. It’s a hive hosted at City of Albuquerque Open Space near the Rio Grande and we suspect deformed wing virus transmitted by varroa but aren’t quite sure.

White Drone: Symptom of Deformed Wing Virus?

White Drone: Symptom of Deformed Wing Virus?

  • Yes, there’s a deformed wing.
  • Yes, we saw a few varroa on drones in the hives.
  • But I can’t find a description in our bee books of the “whitening” of live bees.
Can anyone offer further insight?

Albuquerque Journal, eaten by bees

10 May

One way I like to bolster a hive throughout the season is to combine it with a small swarm or other weak hive. It’s the lazy girl’s guide to solving common problems like uniting a queenless hive with a queenright hive or combining a couple small swarms into one strong colony.

Day 1: Combine hives separated by 1 layer of newspaper

Day 1: Combine hives separated by 1 layer of newspaper

Day 3: Hives have chewed through the paper and combined, hopefully painlessly.

Day 3: Hives have chewed through the paper and combined, hopefully painlessly.

Newspaper Method of Combining Bees

  1. Take a small hive and remove the hive cover and inner cover.
  2. Place a piece or two of newspaper atop the frames in the top box. Cut a slit or two in the paper (optional).
  3. On top of this, add a box with your new colony or swarm.
  4. Close ‘er up and wait a couple days.
  5. OPTIONAL: Sometimes I leave a top entrance for the top box. Othertimes I don’t. Depends on the strength of that hive and how hot temperatures are projected to be.
Read other descriptions of the process at:

Hive splitting = Lazy girl’s swarm prevention

17 Apr

The Great Split of 2011

Last year, one of our hives swarmed 6 times. Each swarm involves dropping everything to capture and rehouse the wayward dames, none of which is easy to do with a full-time job.

So this year, we split our hives the minute the nectar started flowing and they began to look crowded. This year, we hope to be sipping wine after work instead of chasing swarms all over Albuquerque’s SE Heights.

Hives are ready to be split when:

  • The hive is strong.
  • Nectar is flowing.
  • You see drones in the hive (not capped, but actually walking around).
  • And definitely if you see swarm cells. But splitting before you see swarm cells is OK too if you’re a risky sort of beekeeper.

How to make a split:

About two weeks ago, we followed the Bush Bees process for a walk-away split which involves far more wine-sipping then it does bee-checking, so I’m a hopeful believer.  Only time will tell though, and we’re still a couple weeks away from knowing whether there’s a laying queen in both hives.
UPDATE 5/20/2011: So it looks like 2 of our 3 “walkaway splits” were a success this year! Score one for lazy beekeeping.

Day of the Dead Beekeepers

16 Mar

Photo by Karl Arcuri

Karl from Austin is the coolest damn beekeeper I know.  Not only does he examine his hives in a baby blue sweatband, but he paints his hives day-glo yellow.

And this, his latest inspired move, is beyond rad — a Day of the Dead beekeeper he commissioned from Austin artist, Cindy Raschke.

See the full piece at Karl’s place

3 Deeps = Overwintering Success?

8 Mar

She's heavy up top.

Despite being one of the coldest winters on record in Albuquerque (20° below, anyone?), we had our best beekeeping winter yet. 3 out of our 5 hives survived and those that survived all shared a single characteristic: We left 3 deep boxes full of honey and pollen for the girls.

Commercial beeks would likely gasp at our profligacy — how wanton! how wasteful! Why not dose up the hives with chemicals and sugar water and get that honey on the market? Giddyup.

But those who’ve read the studies coming out of University of Minnesota for the past 20 years are probably nodding their heads already. In a 1988 study, researchers Sugden at al.,came to the following conclusion:

Highest winter survival occured in colonies wintered in three brood chambers. There were no significant differences found between [the various types of insulation studied.]

p. 844 in The Hive and The Honey Bee

Thusly our girls survived Albuquerque’s Coldmageddon and we’re hoping it hints at a honey-filled summer ahead.

Bees need water too

3 Mar

"Bees Need Water Too" by Sasha, age 7

You’d be thirsty too if you’d just hibernated for 4 months.

Now that we’re consistently touching 60° in Albuquerque, my bees are out foraging and not just for pollen. The hunt for water is on! Though it’s only March, they’ve started to mob our water source, in this case a pet waterer (photos below), as they begin raising brood for the season.

How to provide water for bees in the city:

  1. Fill a pet waterer, pond, bucket, or bird bath (as illustrated by my niece Sasha) with fresh clean water.
  2. Provide rocks or floating mulch chips for the bees to land on, so they don’t drown.
  3. Be diligent about keeping the water source replenished, lest the bees move on to another source.

For urban beeks, providing a clean water source for your bees is the best way to ensure they don’t take a fatal dip in your neighbor’s pool or flash mob the dog bowl. Continue reading

Bear Destroys Bee Hive

29 Oct

It was a rough week for these East Mountain honeybees. Located in bear country, their stores of sweet honey turned out to be irresistible Wednesday night.

Photos sent by TJ Carr.

How to Bear-Proof Your Apiary

Get more detailed photos and instructions at