Time to snuggle down for winter
To prepare my hives for winter, I only do three basic things. The first is illustrated here. The box on the left has the inner covers in my "summer position" In this position the bees must use the middle hole to enter the hive if they use the entrance notches in the inner cover. This helps the hive defend against robbers. They only have to defend the inner cover hole, not all the notches. But when it gets cold and I am pretty sure robbing season is over, I flip the inner covers to the position on the right. In this position, the bees enter directly into the hive from the notches in the inner cover. For a vertical hive, this gives them a top entrance if the bottom entrance gets plugged with snow or ice. In the horizontal hives, it gives them ventilation in the winter, plus alternative entrances if they want to use them. The second step is to place towels, blankets or something absorbent on top of the inner cover(s). This gives added insulation, but also absorbs extra moisture in the winter. This blocks the inner cover middle hole, which is why the inner covers must be flipped so the bees can access directly to the hive from the notches. The last thing I do is insulate the hives. I staple Reflectix bubble wrap insulation around the hive, then staple tar paper on top of that. The Reflectix has an R factor of 7, and the tar paper is black, so it absorbs heat in the winter.
I have one double walled hive, my tan long hive. I do not do anything special to prepare that hive for the winter. This year it has my swarm in it. Today, I pulled the ventilator wedge I had in that hive out and quickly glanced inside to see how it was doing. There were a lot of bees clustered in the front section, boiling up through the inner cover hole. That is what I want to see this time of year. I want to see a good amount of bees, and I want to see them in the front third of the hive. I closed that hive up, and latched it down. It is good to go for the winter. For the rest of the winter I will observe it from the outside to assess its health.
Next, I went to my blue long hive. That hive was started with a nuc in June. When I lifted the lid I did not see any bees through the inner cover holes. I thought perhaps it was dead. But then I took off the inner covers to flip them. There was a cluster of bees in the middle section. I flipped the inner covers and added towels on top. Then I closed it down and latched it. I will insulate it later on. That doesn't require me to open the hive, so it can be done in colder weather. I am a little concerned that the bees are in the middle section. I only took one frame of honey from that hive, so it should have made enough for winter. At this time of the year, it should have backfilled the brood nest in the front and should be up there. In a horizontal hive they move back in the winter rather than up. This would be the equivalent of having the bees already in the top super going into winter. So, I will just wait and see what happens over the winter.
Next, I went to the vertical hive. It had activity on the entrance, so I know the bees are active there. I swapped out the inner cover I had on there for the summer with one that has more notches. The summer one only had one notch. Sometimes my vertical hives suffer from lack of ventilation, so I wanted to make sure there was plenty of top ventilation for when the bottom entrance gets blocked in the winter. I made sure the inner cover was in the "winter" position, and placed a towel on top of that. Then I put the spacer on and put the top cover back on. I did put an entrance reducer, just a wooden one, on the entrance to that hive. The horizontal hives both have fairly reduced entrances already, and I have also found that by now (early November) if mice are going to enter the hive, they likely are already there. In the horizontal hives they will nest in the far back corner, and other than making a mess, do not really interfere with the bees, so I do not like to trap them in there by placing a mouse guard on at this point in the season.
I did not check to see how much honey was in the top super of the vertical hive. It has two deep brood boxes. I only took one frame from that hive as well. I know some people may disagree with my methods, but I feel like if a hive can't make enough honey for itself for the winter, I don't want to baby it along. My hope is that at least the swarm hive will make it through the winter and I can then split it in the spring. I am getting closer to being back where I once was several years ago when I never had to buy bees. Locally adapted bees are key to survival and sustainability. I have only bought bees from local producers in recent years, but even then my management style may differ and they sometimes work and sometimes don't.
All I have left to do is to wrap the blue horizontal hive and the vertical hive sometime in the next month. I needed to do what I did today when it wasn't too cold out (mid 50's today) because I had to open the top cover of the hives and flip the inner covers. Now that is done, so I will not open the hives until the daffodils bloom in the spring. Everything I do in the winter is from the outside.