On Friday Oct. 13th 2017 we had a beautiful day to prepare the hives for winter. John Krueger showed up to help me wrap the hives and get the entrance reduced on the strong hive. When I first arrived, I noticed immediately that the combined hive had less activity on the bottom entrance and a LOT of activity in the top, where the sugar water feeder is. When we looked inside, the sugar water feeder was completely empty! It had over two gallons in it ten days ago! We removed the top two boxes and confirmed what I had suspected - the hives did indeed finally combine. I have no idea if the queens fought it out and one died, or not. I also have no idea if all that sugar water ended up in this hive, or if some (or most) of it ended up in the hive next door. There was wet nectar in the frames (I assume sugar water) and the top box had some weight and the second box down had more weight, so at least some of it is going into this hive. I have the entrances reduced as much as I can, so again, the rest is up to the bees. We replaced the feeder and re-filled it. We then wrapped the Reflectix wrap around the hive and stapled it down, then did the same with tar paper. We poked holes through both for the upper entrances, which are two round holes in the middle of the handles in the top deep, one in front and one in back. That isn't ideal, but that is where they already were and the bees were using them both, so we had to do it that way. Because of the top feeder, those are the only upper entrances and ventilation holes on that hive. The bottom entrance is reduced to just a small "winter" entrance with a wooden reducer. This is a little less than I would like, but since the hive is pretty weak, even combined, and I suspect is getting robbed to some degree, it is necessary.
The strong hive, which is the one on the left in this picture had a gallon glass jar of sugar water on it. About 2/3 of that was gone. We refilled that completely to the top because I don't expect to be able to get to that one over the winter because it requires more disruption of the hive to get to it than the top feeder on the other hive. This hive had good activity, and knowing it had plenty of honey on last inspection and was the stronger hive, we did not look down inside. We reduced the entrance with a wooden entrance reducer to the "summer" setting, which is 1/2" high and about three or four inches long. This is good enough to keep out mice, but leaves enough room for the bees to remove dead bees in the winter. Then we wrapped this hive with the Reflectix and tar paper as we did the other hive. Lastly, we flipped the inner cover so that the holes lead directly into the hive, then placed a burlap bag full of wool in the spacer on top of the inner cover. We then replaced the lid and put a heavy rock on top.
So, the strong hive, or the one on the left in the picture has everything it needs to successfully overwinter. Time will tell if that is good enough for them. It really is up to the bees themselves at this point. I am sure they have enough honey, and they also have supplementary sugar water and plenty of places to store it. Both hives are WAY too tall, with too much room, but that really doesn't hurt anything, it just makes it more awkward for me. Both hives had "chimneyed" meaning they built the brood nest in the center of the hive, narrow and tall. We will see if that is good or bad. I have had years when I found the dead cluster in the spring on the outside of the hive, next to the wall. Perhaps if they stay more in the middle they will have a better chance of survival.
I have no idea what will happen with the combined hive. I have done what I can, but it may not be enough, again time will tell. Natural signs - like an amazing nut and fruit harvest, as well as weather predictions, are pointing to a hard winter. The top feeder makes it possible to put sugar water in all winter long without exposing the hive. The high solute of 2:1 sugar water makes it freeze at extremely low temps, but the bees have to have warm enough weather to break cluster to access it. Again, we will wait and see. Stay tuned, I will post updates throughout the winter because I do check periodically throughout the season (from the outside) and I will report on whatever I find here.