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Beehive: Trying a new winter experiment for the hives

Beekeeper Brett Kent moves a swarm of bees. (Submitted photo)

Welcome back to the Beehive. Brenda and I finally finished up extracting our honey crop this week. It seemed like it was never going to end.

As it turned out, this year's crop was a little less honey per hive; however, we had more hives this year. So, we should be able to supply our customers with honey for another year.

Now, we are turning our attention towards getting the bees ready to endure another Minnesota winter. I suggested that Brenda sew little fur hats to keep our little Italian bugs warm. Lol.

On a more serious note, the first step in getting the bees ready for winter was to shake all the bees down into a two or three deep box hive. This will give the bees enough room to make a big cluster for warmth, but will not be so big as to waste the energy to heat unused space.

Secondly, we combined some of the weaker hives together so there will be enough bees to create adequate heat to survive the winter. To combine two hives you take the hive cover off of one of the hives and then put a piece of newspaper over it. Then you spray the newspaper with sugar water and poke some small nail holes in it; then another hive is stacked on top of the newspaper-covered hive.

The bees will be drawn to the newspaper because of the sugar water. By the time the bees chew through the newspaper; they will all smell the same and will get along as one group.

That is, almost all get along. The two queens will start chiming. This is a noise they make to trash-talk the other queen. The queens will find each other, and in most cases the strongest queen will kill the weaker queen. In about 10 percent of the hives, the queens will simply co-exist.

Once we have the hives combined, we have to make sure they have approximately 100 pounds of honey, which they will use for food during the winter. Remember, the bees do not hibernate. They are very busy keeping warm while cooped up in that hive box during the winter. This is the stage we are in presently. Brenda and I have been feeding the bees sugar water to help supplement what honey they have.

Our plan for the bees this winter is to keep all the bee hives in our our dog's dismay. With 50 hives in the yard, things get pretty congested with bee traffic on the warm days. Our dogs have learned the hard way where they can go, and where they can't. When our Golden retriever, Dakota, gets stung, she just rolls over and starts licking her foot. When our little dog Nikki gets stung, she chooses to run into the house begging for sympathy, perhaps an ice cube, or maybe a treat will help.

So, we plan to wrap the hives with one-inch Styrofoam and tarpaper.

I will add a hive entrance to the top of the hives so the bees will be able to come and go, even when the snow is covering the bottom entrance. The top entrance will also double as a vent to let the humidity out. This will help cut down on the condensation buildup on the inner cover.

If you remember last year when I put the bees in the garage, the humidity levels built up in the hives, causing condensation to build up on the inner cover, which would then drip on the cluster of bees, killing them. So hopefully, with the two-vent system, along with the insulation, and a decent winter, the bees will be able to make it through the winter. Stay tuned.

This week, Saturday, Oct. 20 will be the last Farmers Market on Main Street. This will be our last chance of the year to get together and talk bees. If you get a chance, come on down and see us. Brenda and I want to thank all of you who supported the market this year. I will continue to write this column through the winter to keep you folks up to date on the status of our bees. As always, you folks take care and thanks for your interest.