Getting the hive ready for cool weather

I’ve been feeding the bees since August to make sure that they have enough honey for the winter. Today I started getting the hive ready for cool weather. I replaced the screened bottom board with a solid bottom board and installed an entrance reducer on the front of the hive.

The bottom board

During the summer, the hive gets very warm and humid. Bees turn nectar into honey by evaporating the water, until it’s, well, thick as honey. All that water vapor has to be vented from the hive. Bees do this by fanning their wings to circulate air. To make their job easier, the bottom of the hive (called the bottom board) is a screen. This lets air in but keeps bugs out. The weather is cooling but the queen will continue to lay eggs through most of the fall. This means that the internal hive temperature has to remain between 90 and 93 degrees at all times. Last night the temperature was 44 degrees outside. To make it easier for the bees to keep warm, the cool weather bottom board is solid. While it helps the hive keep warm, it does reduce ventilation so it will be harder for the colony to cure additional honey. For this reason, you want to keep the screen bottom board in place as long as you can.

Entrance reducer

During the summer, the entrance runs the entire width of the front of the hive box. The entrance reducer is a cleat that can be turned to reduce the entrance by either 75% or 95%. The smaller entrance is easier to guard as the colony population starts to drop. It also helps keep heat in. It does, however, make for quite the bee traffic jam. On the warm sunny day, hundreds of bees hover feet from the hive, waiting their turn to land.

Stop feeding

As I mentioned, I have fed the bees since early August. There’s now 70-80# of honey in the hive. Since it’s now harder to feed the hive, and there are sufficient winter stores, I removed the top feeder. If spring is slow arriving next year, I will start feeding again in March.

Next steps

When it gets really cold, I will turn the reducer so the entrance is 95% reduced, cover the outside with tar paper to reduce drafts and to absorb sunlight. I will also drill a second entrance hole in the top of the hive box. This serves as a second-floor entrance/exit. During winter snow can block the main entrance from the outside, or a layer of dead bees can block the entrance from the inside. The axillary entrance will let the bees get out on warm (above 54F ) winter days. Bees don’t eliminate waste inside the hive. They hold it!

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