Lindsay's Apiaries

    About the Apiary

  An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
  The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal

  Tips for wintering down  

   About the Apiary - April - 2014

The season is practically over, so it’s time to set up the hives for winter.

Those with standard floors should set them up with a slight forward slope so rainwater runs off and out of the hive. Entrances should have been reduced during the robbing season to 100 millimetres by seven millimetres for strong hives. Make the entrances narrower if the colony is smaller so the bees can defend against wasps and mice from entering during the night.

The hives will have been treated in February and are due to be checked to see that the treatment was successful. Check all your hives with mite drop over five days onto a sticky board or monitor bees with sugar shake using bees of an outer frame containing brood. If you still have drones, fork out 100 pupae in the pink-eye stage and count the mites. With luck there will be fewer than three per hundred cells.

Those in the South Island and still in the acute phase (the first three years of varroa) will have to continue to monitor hives for re-invasion now and again in June if bees are flying. Those treating late (i.e., March) could mean hives are at risk of not making it through the winter, especially if it’s been a poor honey production season. You need two generations of varroa-free brood to produce fat winter bees.

Hives should have a young queen or at least one that is laying in almost every cell in the brood area.

Hives should have enough bees to maintain a good-sized cluster. This means they should be at least covering nine frames. When it gets cold, the cluster will shrink to cover about five to six frames.


Most two-storey hives require a super of honey stores. If you haven’t got this much, consider feeding thick sugar syrup so that they store this amount, or reduce the colony to a single super and feed until honey is in all the frames and in an arch at the top of the brood frames.

Another way to winter smaller colonies is to put them on a split board and on top of a strong hive so it shares the heat given off from the hive below. Just make sure the one below has top ventilation by propping up one end with matchsticks or drawing pins.

Those playing with top-bar hives need to feed until 10 frames are all more than half full of stores. It’s a little more complicated to winter these hives as the bees don’t tend to move sideways onto more stores. You should check them regularly through the winter and perhaps move honey frames up against the cluster so they will move onto the frames.

Five-frame nucs

I’ll also be wintering a number of five-frame nucs. Once the queens are mated and laying, I’ll be adding more frames of emerging brood to boost bee numbers so they cover at least four frames, then basically squash them into the middle frame with frames of honey. During the winter I will most probably replace the outside honey frames with more honey frames. One problem with feeding honey frames is that it’s possible to transfer AFB to the hive, so only use frames from apiaries that have never had disease.

Another way to winter these nucs is to put two together on top of a strong hive and seal everything with tape to prevent water from entering the bottom hive. I’ll also have foil-coated bubble pack under the roof to help keep the heat generated in the nucs from escaping. My nucs are made from used coreflute real estate signs with bottom ventilation cuts from a thin-bladed cutting disc. The heat from the hive below goes up through the cut and out the end ventilation mesh. Hopefully this will work.

Things to do this month

Winter down hives. Check feed and the effectiveness of mite treatments. Make sure the top-bar hives have 10 frames with honey in them. Do an AFB check. Slope bottom boards and fit mouse guards. Replace rotten or damaged supers and bottom boards. Attend to fences, check for wasps and control grass. Go through the honey supers and reject any old dark frames you cannot see light through. Store frames in supers with foundation or arrange so that light frames are on the outside and darker frames are moved to the middle.

Freeze stored frames (supers) for 24 hours to kill wax moth eggs and larvae, or store in a shed that is open and has a good airflow through the supers. Those in the North Island and perhaps the top of the South Island will have to watch more closely for wax moth infestation.

Drought in some areas could mean possible tutin problems. If you are a hobbyist and have tutin within five kilometres and high scolypopa numbers, test your honey before giving any away. Clubs can have their members' samples composite tested. Send the results to MPI.

(Sorry that this is very short this month due to space restrictions.)

Frank Lindsay