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Brett Kent

The Beehive: Wintering the bees in heated garage will be a challenge

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Welcome back to the beehive. Deer hunting is now upon us and we are still having some unseasonably warm days.

The bees have been active on the days that reach temperatures of 45 degrees. I have been feeding the bees some honey and also letting them clean the honey out of the wax cappings, which we have from the extraction process.

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I told you folks last time that we would discuss the options for wintering the honeybees. I will talk about what the pros and cons of each option and then finally what I am going to do with my bees this winter. One thing to remember while we discuss the different options is, the cold temperatures do not kill the bees.

People keep bees in Canada and even Alaska. What kills the bees is the condensation build up on the inside cover of the hive box. In the winter, the bees are in a cluster, keeping the center of the cluster about 90 degrees. As the bees warm up they move from the center of the cluster to the outside of the cluster.

While the cluster of bees moves about the hive box, the bees consume honey along the way. This gives the bees the energy to stay warm and survive. The heat from the cluster creates moisture which starts to bead up on the inside cover of the hive box. If the condensation builds up to the point where it drips down onto the cluster of bees, it can have fatal consequences.

The bees are unable to warm themselves once they get wet. Then the hive dies. The cure for this moisture problem is to ventilate the hive to get rid of the condensation, without reducing the hive box temperature. Beekeepers have come up with some ingenious ways to solve this problem, but many of the solutions are not cost effective.

The first year I tried to winter my bees; I wrapped the hives in tarpaper. This allows the sun to heat the hives up on sunny days and helps keep the wind out of the hives. Some people have great success with this method; however, I had no success with this, as all my bees died.

The next season, I hauled all my bees down to Kansas. I have to say, I did not think you could be nervous for 14 hours at a time, but both Brenda and I were basket cases by the time we arrived.

Oh, and did I mention how angry the bees are after being bounced around for 14 hours at a time? Oh my word, they were some angry little bugs. We hauled 22 hives down south, 19 of which made it through the winter. Then in the spring, we had to make the return trip.

Once again, we were nervous for 14 hours, and the bees were angry. I think the survival rate was very promising, but there were some drawbacks to the trip to Kansas. The cost of the fuel for the trip down and the return trip was $1100.00.

So, I did a little research and learned that some commercial beekeepers in Canada winter their bees in a heated building. As I e-mailed these people and talked to other beekeepers who had tried this, I began to think of this as a viable option. I put one hive in my heated garage last year to give it a whirl. I kept the garage at approximately 40 degrees.

At 40 degrees, the bees are comfortable, but are not willing to leave the hive box. I also learned that you have to keep the garage very dark, or the bees will take a chance and fly towards the sunlight. One other thing I learned during this test run is that once the bees leave the hive box, while in the garage, they will not, or cannot, find their way back to the hive box. Simply stated, the bees' GPS does not work while in the building.

The test hive that I put in my heated garage made it through the winter. The hive was so strong in the spring that I had to split it into three hives. Therefore, I have decided to put the majority of my beehives in the heated garage this winter, and Brenda's car will be out in the cold. If we sell enough honey, maybe I will buy her one of those remote car starters or maybe not. LOL.

Next time I will let you know how the transition to the garage when and whether or not Brenda has a new remote car starter. Once again as always, thanks for your interest.

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