Bees do not hibernate. Instead they spend the winter in a roiling, shivering mass of bees about the size of a volleyball at the center of the hive. The inside of this cluster is warm enough to keep a little brood running through the winter. The outside is cooler but closer to the honey, which the bees eat throughout the season.
This is emphatically not the time to do anything to one’s hive. Inspections are left until the spring, and beekeepers sit in their houses, staring longingly at their hives, sipping coco, waiting. It is also not recommended to move hives during the winter. If the bees break cluster, the brood and some bees can freeze to death.
Unfortunately my moving schedule did not allow me to transport my bees in the fall or spring, so I had to come up with a plan to move them in the dead of winter. Here it is, in a bit of detail, but without an outcome. I’ll have to sit and sip my coco, waiting to see if my hive survived the ordeal.
Note that my hives were pretty strong going into winter: 12 deep frames of honey in each. I would not have attempted this if they were not in such good shape.
The bees had had to be kept warm during the move, so when a bump in the road caused them to break cluster, they’d survive. That meant transporting them inside a heated vehicle. I removed the passenger seat from my truck and built a small rack out of 2-x-4-in lumber. I attached ratchet straps to the bolts that usually held the seat down.
After a particularly warm day, I put a small square of screen in the entrance of the hives and then stapled a larger piece of screen over the front of the entire entrance. I had to use nails to hold the entrance reducer in place. I used a set of ratchet straps around each hive to keep the boxes from coming apart as we moved them into and out of the truck. Thanks to my wife, Lauren, and my new beekeeping friend, Jeanne, for the assistance!
Once in the truck, the hives were covered with a large sheet, and the ends were tucked underneath. Just in case a bee got out of both screens, it wouldn’t be loose in the cabin. I did travel with my veil on the seat next to me. I secured both hives down with seat belts and the bolt-connected ratchet straps.
I ran a small heater in the truck to warm it up before and after the hives were in place, trying to bring up their internal temperature. During the drive, I ran the heater pretty high and out of the foot-well vents to keep them warm.
My entire drive was scored with a pleasant buzzing each time I went over a bump.
Once in Madison, the hives were unloaded and wrapped. I let them sit over night before removing the entrance screens. Now we wait and see.