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No Empty Space

This might be rule #1 for winter survival. No, wait, treating mites is #1, which makes this #2. Anyway, it's important. You do not want to have empty space in your hive in the winter!

By empty space, I am referring to space that the bees are not using and will not use. A couple of definitions are handy here:


Blank: a frame of foundation where bees have not yet built any wax comb, most often it's just plastic. This is empty space


Empty: a frame of drawn comb (the bees have built wax) that is not currently filled with anything. This is better than empty space.



As you think about the use of space in your hive, keep this hierarchy in mind:


Full and covered with bees > Full but no bees > Empty > Blank



Filling the Space


Ideally, you want any box you are leaving on through winter to be full of bees and honey. If this is not the case, then you need to consider what you can do to help your bees fill the space they are in.


Replacing Blank Frames


One very simple way to do this is to replace any blank frames with empty frames. This becomes easier after your first season when you are able to build up a bit of surplus equipment (it's always worth taking advantage of wax building season and giving them blank frames to draw even if they don't need them at the time!).


In this video, I show how I replace blank frames in a hive:


Now for some what-ifs:


If you don't have empty frames, then push the blanks to the outer edges of the box.If possible, leave the blanks not the outer edges of the BOTTOM box rather than the top.


If you've got more than 4 blank frames in a box that you cannot replace, then you are probably better off removing that box entirely (more on that in a second).


Reducing the Space to Fit


If your bees are not filling the space or if you've got too many blank frames in a box, then you want to shrink the hive space down to fit the size of the colony. If the top box is mostly blank frames, remove it. If there are some brood or honey frames in there, see if there are any empty frames in the bottom box that you can replace with the full frames. Occasionally reducing the space means you get a little extra honey to harvest (oh darn!).


If you are already in one box and the bees are not filling it, move them into a 5-6 frame nuc box. Your bees will do much better in a space they can fill. Lyson makes a really nice polystyrene nuc box that is well insulated for winter!


The Population Dwindle


Over the course of the winter, approximately 2/3 of your bees will die naturally. This is why you want your fall hive to be overflowing with bees; so that comes spring, they are not a small cluster of bees trying to heat a huge, cavernous hive.



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