All actions taken around a hive should be considered for the good health and overall Vitality of the colony. Whether you start your bee-journey with a “nucleus Colony” (we are not the only society of Beings which go forth as Colonists to a New World:-} } or an established Hive Being; at the end of the season they should be left with ample stores of honey and pollen . This one decision of treating the Hive with an Abundance of properly located food stores within the Hive is an Important one. The Hive Being should also have a big enough population of bees and brood to form a critical life force to survive the winter months. In the Autumn the inspection of the hive should have ensured that the parasite infestation such as varroah mites is at a low enough level that the Hive Being can survive a possible harsh and prolonged winter, such as it can be here In Nova Scotia on St. Mary’s Bay . Biodynamic beekeeping requires that proactive Observation and possible life-enhancing-treatments for such imbalances within the hive are dealt with regularly as the situation dictates. Bombarding a hive in the Autumn with fumigation of oxalic or formic acid, or with toxic chemicals is Not what we do here at Bello Uccello Honey Bee Sanctuary.
So in a funny way it is not the action of wrapping a hive in the beginning of December, that assures the survival of the Bee-Being but rather all decisions and subsequent actions taken during the active part of the whole season .
Let us assume that your colony at the beginning of September is at a stage where you either reduced it to no more than 3 large hive bodies or you are still waiting for some autumn honey flow to finish some frames in a 4th super that will be taken off shortly.
In our sanctuary, where the older Bee Beings expand to the 5th and sometimes to the 6th large super, this can happen easily and frequently I will leave some frames in the 4th super to be finished off on top of the 3 main boxes, that the bees will go into the winter with. Usually not a full super but rather a few frames with spacer frames to fill the 4th super temporarily.
Having just made this statement, I will have taken action long before the beginning of September, complementing the hives in their own rhythms and helping them to be centered in the hive boxes. Naturally, consideration is given to the location of their brood nest and their winter stores. All of this assures that their access to honey and pollen is guarantied so we can avoid the totally preventable loss of a colony . Many a Hive Being has starved needlessly to death despite honey and pollen being stored in the combs due to this lack of attention to the above described order and placement of stores . No one can predict what the Winter and Spring weather will be……..”an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” .
This loss of a Hive Being ,due to lack of proper location of food and brood , can happen when a cold spell occurs in mid -winter. The bees cannot brake their cluster to get to the honey that is just below or 2 frames over from their current position in the hive.
So what do we do in our sanctuary? Naturally action is depending upon every Bee Beings personality, as some will need more help than others and some of our colonies do not need any help at all because of how they have organized their own body for the winter. These Bee Beings have genetically gained back their “memory of Beingness” and found their Freedom. Each Human Being is also trying to Remember our full Blueprint of Being a Free Human Being.
Since we do Not use Queen excluders, sometimes the brood nest can be through several hive boxes like a chimney and at other times the queen can get “stuck” let’s say in the 4th and 5th box while the bees have filled honey below their current nest position.
So by mid August I usually “reorganize” the hive bodies if necessary. The reason for choosing to do this during August is simply because of the warmer outside temperature that will minimize the stress for the Bee Being, rather than waiting one month later when this activity could be much more dramatic for the hive, depending on the weather patterns .
Whenever this work is done the main honey- flow- surplus honey has been taken off already and the supers reduced, which will make this much faster for each hive.
Since you will have done this work not very long ago and you would have written down all details observed in your notes for every hive ; you will have a somewhat realistic picture of what you can expect to see before you open a hive. This is a very good practice because you can form mentally a strategy how to go about doing this “reorganizing” if necessary and be prepared with supplies to do so..
STEPS FOR PREPARING FOR WINTER:
1. As you go through the hive remove all empty frames and all partially started frames.
2. Locate the main brood nest and put it as the first super back on the hive stand. The brood nest should be 5 to 6 frames in the center with the rest of the frames filled with honey and pollen capped on either side to make up the 10 frames.
3. The second super to go on next should contain all the remaining brood again centered with say 3 frames capped or partially capped honey on the sides.( If your hive is rather small or a young hive this second box should fill up to about 8 capped of honey and the rest of the brood all down below)
4. In our sanctuary all Hive Beings go into the winter with 3 hive boxes whereby the last box is full with honey only capped or partially capped at this point, but will be capped a couple weeks later. With this arrangement I never have to think about feeding, even if the winter last till the end of April beginning of May. (Sometimes later swarms will be only 2 boxes high going into the winter but will have plenty of food.)
5.Depending on where you live, you may have a good autumn honey flow and in such a case once your main three boxes are well organized and almost ready for the winter, you could still have a 4th super on with frames that are partially full or full ones that need to be capped yet. (But be careful and be aware of the tendency of your individual Hive Beings, especially the ones that tend to make more brood than honey, in such a case I would not give them more space above the 3rd but rather have them fill the empty brood cells with honey to boost their food reserves.)
6.Should you be a new keeper of bees and you are still not quite sure how to organize a hive down to a maximum of 3 large hive boxes, resist the notion of leaving more food above the 3rd super. The problem with this is not the extra food but rather the extra space created, which will make it more difficult for the hive being to maintain proper temperature . Heat rises up and in this case to far away from the brood nest. Get another keeper of bees with more experience to help you in such a case.