CHAPTER XX Edit
HOW TO WINTER BEES SUCCESSFULLY Edit
GENERALLY speaking, there are two ways in which bees are wintered, outdoors, and in cellars or special repositories, and the methods of treating the colonies vary according to the plan followed. For many years there have been discussions among beekeepers as to which plan is the better, and there is a great deal to be said in favor of both, but it is conceded by eminent authorities that the outdoor plan is preferable if the conditions of successful outdoor wintering are followed, and the bees provided with the proper packing and shelter. Personally I believe that outdoor wintering is best even in cold climates; but outdoor wintering in such sections demands great care in the matter of extra packing, in order to bring the bees through their long winter's sleep in good condition, with the coming of spring.
In favor of indoor wintering in cellars and special repositories, it is said that it requires less stores to winter bees indoors, which is a distinct saving in honey and offsets the extra work of moving them in and out, and the beekeeper has no worry from the possibility of their freezing if left outdoors, if the weather goes down below zero and remains there for weeks at a time. I shall show, however, that if properly packed for extreme coldness the fear of loss from freezing is groundless. Of course it costs a great deal more for winter cases for outdoor wintering, but the first cost is the principal one, and the added benefits derived more than offset the matter of expense, and the added strength in spring of colonies wintered outdoors as compared with those wintered indoors means a larger surplus from the early flow.
Bees wintered indoors cannot take advantage of occasional warm days during winter for cleansing flights, and if the winter is prolonged, are subject to dysentery, whereas the outdoor bees have had several opportunities in which to relieve themselves, and seldom suffer from it. Again, bees wintered indoors require constant care in the matter of receiving proper ventilation and regulation in the matter of temperature, and when set outdoors in the spring suffer from spring dwindling, in case a cold spell should come on after they are set out. They are even destroyed, while bees that were wintered outdoors do not feel the change, as they are in their winter packing and are used to the cold.
To offset spring dwindling, many a beekeeper places some extra protection around his bees when he sets them out in spring, and while this is a help, the bees nevertheless suffer from the contrast when placed outdoors, and spring dwindling is the rule rather than the exception.
If the truth were known, the real reason why so many beekeepers keep a large number of colonies wintered indoors is because they hesitate about going to the extra expense and trouble of providing winter cases for each hive, and having to pack them. The trouble of packing is no greater than that of having to move the bees in and out each year. As outdoor wintering is the simpler and easier method, especially for the beginner, we will describe it first.
Whether bees are to be wintered outdoors or in the cellar, every colony should be gone over carefully in September and care exercised to see that each colony is strong in bees and stores. If there are a number of weak colonies, it is best to unite several of them and make strong ones, as these weak colonies are almost sure to perish, and it is a waste of time to try to winter them separately. Supposing that every colony is in good condition, we will in following the outdoor plan leave every colony on its summer stand, and as cold weather becomes settled, about the middle of November, we will now get ready to pack them.
Some beekeepers use nothing but chaft hives, and where these hives are used, it is a very simple matter to get them ready. All that we have to do is to put the chaff tray filled with planer shavings on the hive, over the board that covers the frames, and when it is in place slip the large telescoping cover over all and the hive is prepared. In sections of the country where the winters are moderately mild with an occasional zero day, these hives fulfil every requirement, but in the extreme north, where zero weather prevails for weeks at a time, a thicker packing than that of the ordinary chaff hive will be necessary. The extra cost of the chaff hives has stood in the way of their general adoption by the majority of beekeepers who winter out of doors, and this has led to other methods for providing winter protection which, to say the least, are far from what they should be. Better put the bees in the cellar a thousand times than to leave them outdoors once without proper cas ing. Beekeepers of this class usually plar over every hive an empty section super, in which is stuffed a bag containing old leaves, cut hay, wheat chaff, or even rags, and with the lid over this, the hives are left for the winter. We would not say that such packing is of no benefit, but it does fall far short in giving the extra warmth that goes to make up successful outdoor wintering.
Still another class of beekeepers resort to old newspapers, and where about an inch of these is placed on top of the board covering the brood nest, the lid being previously removed, and about a dozen thicknesses of paper tied around the four sides of the hive, and a deep wooden telescope case pressed down over the same, leaving of course the entrance of the hive open, this will, in the majority of cases where moderate winters prevail, winter the bees in fairly good shape.
Other beekeepers make large tenement boxes in which they place several hives side by side and pack the large case with some absorbent packing, covering the case with a good waterproof paper, and in many cases the bees winter remarkably well, but if you want to be absolutely certain of wintering your bees successfully, even in Canada, adopt the following plan used by the author, who tried and discarded long ago as unsatisfactory most of the methods referred to above.
For each hive, I have a large winter case or nearly square box made of l/2 inch board, which is by inside measurement five inches wider all around than the hive body, and six inches deeper. This is a perfectly plain box without bottom or lid, but at its bottom edges I have some 1/2 inch thick strips that run in at all sides at right angles from the sides and which permit of the case being slid down over the body of the hive with about 1/4 inch space all around. The lid of the hive must be removed to permit of this case going down around the hive. On each side of the bottom board of the hive I have a cleat running its entire length from front to back, to act as a rest for the winter case, which rests on both sides on the strips that run in at right angles, and prevent the winter case from slipping down over the entrance of the hive. These cleats, which are one inch thick, are left as a permanent part of the bottom board and are nailed on just a trifle below the edge of where the bottom board comes in contact with the bottom edge of the hive body, so that the winter case when packed will cover the crack completely and keep out wind and water. The winter case projecting beyond the hive body all around prevents completely the clogging of the hive entrance with snow, and keeps out the rain. When the winter case is in place and the feeder or cover board is over the frames, a barrel of planer shavings is dumped into it and packed tightly around the sides and ends, and about eight inches of loose planer shavings are put over the top of the hive body. Over this winter case is slipped a telescope lid thai is five inches deep and has a tin roof, and by this means perfect conditions prevail, as the colony has for protection, first its body hive 7/8 inch thick on all sides, then five inches of planer shavings all around with eight inches on top, and a waterproof telescope case over this. The lid to this winter case can be covered with a good heavy paper such as Rubberoid, and will not cost as much to make as the one with the sheet iron covering. In these perfect cases, the bees are comfortable, and even in the extreme north will winter in fine shape.
The metal-covered cap is used all through the summer season as a lid for the hive over the board cover over the brood nest; and as it projects some ten inches all around, it acts as a perfect sun shade; when the time comes for winter packing it is made to fulfil a twofold purpose by covering the winter case. Any one can make these cases, and, as they are the result of many years' experiment, they are the best in the world.
When wintering bees in a cellar, the preparation of the colonies is about the same as far as strength is concerned, with the possible exception that not quite so much honey needs to be present in the hive, and the proper time to place the bees in the cellar is after cold weather has come, generally speaking this is about the 20th of November. The best time is after two or three warm days following a cold spell, so that the bees may have a final cleansing flight, and when the cold days come on again the colonies are ready for moving into their winter quarters. Any good dry cellar will do for this purpose, but all the windows should be darkened, for the bees are to winter in absolute darkness, and if the entire cellar cannot be devoted to them, a part of it should be partitioned off with shingling- laths and building-paper so that it can be kept absolutely dark.
One by one, toward the close of day, the hives on their bottom boards with lids in place should be carried in and placed in rows against the wall, and when the entire floor space is occupied, leaving an aisle down the middle, other hives may be piled on top of those on the floor and on up to the ceiling, leaving every hive with a full opening at its entrance. When once the bees are placed in their winter quarters, the only things to be looked after are ventilation, and the maintenance of the proper temperature, which may vary between forty and sixty degrees, though the nearer forty-five it can be kept the better. If the temperature should rise on mild days, and the bees show signs of restlessness, it will be necessary to open the door of the cellar or a window after dark and leave them open all night, but be sure to close them before daybreak lest the bees be lured out by the light.
Even though the winter may be severe outside and the bees are not restless, it is an excellent thing to ventilate the cellar occasionally. The ideal plan is first to open a part of the cellar most distant from the bees and allow fresh air to enter it, and then close the outer door, and allow the fresh air to become tempered as it were, and then open the door that leads into the part of the cellar where the bees are stored, and let the tempered air into them. By following this method, the bees are not disturbed as they would be if the cold air were turned in on them directly from outdoors.
Do not be alarmed if during the winter some dead bees should accumulate on the cellar floor, for this does not indicate any injury, but they are merely old bees that have died off from natural causes and that have crawled out of the hive to keep from dying within their homes. If the bottoms of the hives are fitted with reasonably deep bottom boards, it will not be advisable to try to scrape out the dead bees with a piece of wire, as some beekeepers advocate, as all such poking has a tendency to annoy the bees and disturb their slumbers. The less we trouble them, the better it will be for all concerned. Where house apiaries are used, the packing can be done inside the house around the hives, but house apiaries have long since been discarded by progressive beekeepers, as the bees are always getting on the floor during the working season, to say nothing of other annoyances, that led to their rejection years ago.
The individual beekeeper must be the best judge as to the proper time to place his bees outdoors in the spring, but, generally speaking, the latter part of March, or, better still, when the pussy-willows are in bloom, or when settled, mild weather prevails, and a little added protection in the way of packing-paper placed about each hive as it is set out will help to keep down spring dwindling. The planer shavings, packing, and cases can be left on the hives of the bees wintered outdoors until fruit bloom, and will go a great way toward encouraging early brood-rearing, and here we have another advantage in favor of outdoor wintering with proper packing. In some of the northern states some beekeepers bury their bees for winter in long trenches or clamps, and cover them with branches and leaves and a foot or so of earth, but we would not advise such a plan, especially for the beginner. A great deal more might be written about the wintering of bees and other plans discussed, but as we have given the best two, we need not add explanation concerning methods that have been discarded, as it will only be unprofitable and confusing. By all means winter out of doors, and by giving the proper protection for the hives in the winter cases fully described, you will have a plan which is ideal and that will help toward success in a hundred ways.