Honeybee Colony Winterization: Wrapping in Northern Virginia

Wrapping colonies for winter is a THING. Some beekeepers wrap, some don’t. Catalogs and magazines have advertisements for wrapping products and even heaters. Before wrapping, the number one question a beekeeper has to address ‘WHAT IS WINTER LIKE HERE?’ Winter in Georgia is different from winter in North Dakota. I’m writing for Northern Virginia, USDA zones 6 & 7.

To start, my hives are elevated for ease of work and ventilation.  During fall when raking leaves, I partially fill strong black plastic trashbags with leaves and wedge them underneath my colonies.  (Bottom boards should have been placed in late September, entrance reducers in November.)  The trash bags wedged under the colonies reduce wind and provide bottom insulation. An added benefit is that on sunny days, the black plastic captures solar radiation and provides a little warmth.  Moving solar radiation to heat to the the colony is my theme for wrapping.

Bottom insulation from bagged leaves

Stuffing black plastic bags of leaves happens during October, or whenever I’m raking leaves. This colony has a plastic bottom board where the landing area has broken off – maintenance item but the bees make do.

 

Stuffing black plastic bags of leaves happens during October, or whenever I’m raking leaves.  Actual wrapping comes later in December when the weather has definitely turned to cold.  This area is prone to warm spells well into December, and with no forage available, I don’t want to stimulate into wasteful flight activity.

The wrap I use is very simple – heavy black plastic with maybe some bubblewrap on the north face of the colony.   Other than the bubble wrap on the north face there is no insulating material.  What I’ve found with styrofoam or full bubble wrap is that come spring I’m keeping the cold IN.  I don’t want to turn the hive into an insulated cooler.  The black plastic provides 2 main benefits.  The first is to block wind which can get into the cracks the bees haven’t filled with propolis.  The second is to catch the heat of the sun.

The wrap is heavy black plastic with enough bubble wrap to protect the north face of the colony.

The wrap is heavy black plastic with enough bubble wrap to protect the north face of the colony.

The top edge of the black plastic is folded down about 2 inches, which provides a better grip for stapling.  Bottom corners are folded up such that the south face is not fully covered.  Folds are held in place with either tape or office staples.

Black plastic is 6 mil, cut to 32 inches by 6 feet 8 inches.

Black plastic is 6 mil, cut to 32 inches by 6 feet 8 inches.

I cut, fold, and tape the wraps in my workshop before heading out to wrap.  At the end of winter I remove and store the wraps.  Some of the wraps I have in use are seeing their 4th winter.

This is a weak colony I wrapped in November.  As it is light on bees and stores (only 2 mediums), it got early protection and prolonged access to 2:1 feed.

This is a weak colony I wrapped in November. As it is light on bees and stores (only 2 mediums), it got early protection and prolonged access to 2:1 feed.

You can see how the folded up bottoms of the plastic leave the south face relatively exposed. I don’t want to overheat the colony and I also want to allow the bees to cue in on the color of their home when returning from forage or cleansing flights.

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