packing down for Winter from my perspective has me typically going through the following steps:
1). making sure that the hive has enough stored honey reserves to draw on where it needs to through the colder months were there isn’t any flowers about or its just too bloody cold for them to forage, 6 frames of capped reserves in full depth frames is typically what they need to get themselves through.
2). removal of the queen excluder and packing down the hive to just two boxes, so the brood box and a Super, but without the queen excluder so the bees and the queen and wander as they see fit around the entire hive to access honey reserves as and when required.
3). checking that the entrance guards are in place or for those hives that don’t have these reducing the size of the entrance to help the bees better guard the entrance whilst helping to restrict pests in the hive including field mice that often enter hives in Winter to stay warm and also feed as mice can do some very real damage in a brood box to stored combs. Leopard slugs can also be a nuisance.
4). Check that your small hive beetle (SHB) trap system, whichever you are using, is operating prior to going into Winter as larger SHB’s often hunker down in hives to get through Winter and where you have an effective trap system operating in Winter these can help to significantly cull the numbers of beetles in a hive so they don’t get out of hand as soon a spring starts and pollen starts being collected again on mass by foraging bees.
5). Check to ensure that the entrance of your hive is free from any debris including large deciduous leaves that may have fallen and also grass that may have grown up as these barriers can have a real effect on your bees returning to your hive that then have to weave there way through the leaves and wet grass onto to return to the hive now wet and cold. This is a reason many foraging bees are lost in winter as these small but effective barriers are very real obstacles for your bees and a significant drain on your bees at a time when new bees are not being made as they are not being replaced in winter.
6). Dont be afraid to feed you bees and by this I don’t mean feeding them sugar syrup as this is NOT what they need to get them through Winter as it mimics a honey flow when they clearly don’t have one. Rather providing the hive with dry, white sugar and around 3 kgs of it under the lid will enable the bees to utilise this stored reserve much as they would a frame of candied honey in a frame. Don’t forget never feed your bees brown or raw sugar as this contains too much ash and is too difficult for the bees to digest and hence will make them sick.
7). Regularly check the weight of your hive/s by lifting it from the front or rear using just two fingers, if you cannot or if difficult then thats a good sign that they still have sufficient honey reserves to get them through but if you can and hence its lighter then on next fine day provide them with more white sugar under the lid for them to access to as and when they need to.
8). As the sun is lower in the Australian winter sky due to the angle of the earth make sure that you hives are still in a sunny warm spot as the angle of the sun in winter may see your hives now in a shaded spot which will make it all that much harder for the bees to stay warm, if they now effected by significant shadows for extended periods move your hive into a sunnier spot.
9). If you do loose a hive in winter do a post mortem on it to determine its cause so you don’t make the same mistakes next year, bee informed and assess the risks and these are easily managed.
10). On a final note the US are currently recording an average of 23% of hive losses throughout winter where its down to around 11% in NZ, as there are no known Australian stats for winter losses these stats are provided as a guide, nothing more. That said bees don’t die of the cold in winter rather they die of starvation in winter or should I say coming out of winter so weigh up all these points and let me know your thoughts, cheers.
Hey Sam - what have i missed above???