Auntie Bee answers a question on winter protection for hives

December 2012

Dear Auntie  Bee

I have had conflicting reports about what to do for Winter protection for the bees and as the weather has turned cold I feel I should be doing something quite urgently.  Can you please recommend a course of action?

Dear Beekeeper

Bees need to be protected from woodpeckers in the Winter as they can cause considerable damage to a hive, particularly those that are not in gardens and cannot be looked at every day.  This can be done using chicken wire making sure that there is no access to the roof or up underneath through the floor if these are both wooden.

Bees shouldn’t really need protecting against the cold as they form a tight cluster and go into a state like dormancy when the weather is very cold.  However, as more people leave their open mesh floors on throughout the winter there are some schools of thought that recommend protecting from draughts and this can be achieved by wrapping the hive in plastic or bubble wrap.

It is absolutely essential not to do this so thoroughly that the hive is not ventilated and there should be some air circulation either from  underneath through open mesh floors or by putting a couple of matchsticks between the roof and crown board.

Bubble wrap or plastic needs to be secured with string so it can be removed for varroa treatment in January.  Drawing pins will not hold in strong winds and parcel tape or similar will harm the wrap so it cannot be used year on year.  Woodpeckers are deterred by plastic wrap as they find it difficult to grip but it is not as fool-proof as wire mesh.