Border Bees Diary

Diary of a Beekeeper in the Scottish Borders

Archive for February, 2009

Winter Losses

Posted by borderglider on February 15, 2009

Visited my hives on a calm day last week to discover that  three of the five had died over the winter.  They were well fed in September and I did not take off any honey last summer – since it was obviously not a year of surplus after the appalling wet, cold summer we had. They seemed to be well-fed and I did feed sugar syrup ad-lib in September – but it looks like they died of cold and starvation.

We have had the coldest winter for the last 12 years in the UK – London had its first October snow in 70 years and we have had almost a month when the temperature never rose above zero.

Feeding sugar and honey from Ziplock Bag

Feeding sugar and honey from Ziplock Bag

The two remaining colonies were in good shape but just to be sure I gave them both a kilo bag of wetted sugar mixed with honey – fed in a ziplock bag and placed directly over the cluster. I make fine cuts in the top of the plastic bag with a razor-knife -and I used just enough honey and water to make the mixture sludgy/ doughy – but not runny – so it doesn’t drip onto the cluster.

A ziplock-bag used as a winter feeder

A ziplock-bag used as a winter feeder

I also beefed up the polystyrene insulation in the hive roofs – 2″ rather than 1″ – and tacked a damp-course builder’s membrane around the hive bodies – leaving a clear entrance.  So – fingers crossed – the heavy-duty plastic will shed rainwater and keep the hives from damp, the polystyrene roof insulation should help keep them warm and the extra sugar should get them through the next week or two. I will carry on feeding until the flowers are out in March.

Winter bees feeding on sugar

Winter bees feeding on sugar

I wrap my hives in a heavy-duty plastic called ‘Damp Proof Membrane’ which can be bought from builders merchants here in the UK. The plastic is about 2 mm thick and is simply stapled to the hive – or thumb tacks can be used. Once in place it sheds all the water and snow from the hive – keeping the wood dry and making it easier for the bees to maintain the temperature of the cluster. It also keeps wind out from any cacks or hive joints.

winter-wrapped-hive

Hive wrapped in heavy duty plastic against water, snow and wind

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