For some, urban rooftop honey is about as high altitude as it gets. But it gets even higher. And the higher it gets, the more difficult it is to pull off making and harvesting honey. Below, long-time bee keeper Jean Vasicek shares her high-altitude secrets and what she does throughout the summer and into the fall to keep her bees alive throughout the year.
Up above 8000 ft, keeping bees is tricky. The honey season is short and the dormant season is long. The bees barely have enough time during the spring honey flow to produce enough honey to make it through the winter. Above 8000 feet, the bees will need roughly 150 lbs of honey to make it through the cold winter.
Bees need honey to stay healthy. Honey is loaded with nutrition. There are many food supplements available such as high fructose corn syrup or just plain sugar water, but none of them match the real thing: honey. It is important to allow bees to eat all the honey they require. Sometimes, at high altitudes, the bees will need their entire year’s honey crop. High altitude honey sells for a premium price. However, the temptation to harvest the high altitude honey and feed the bees honey from the grocery store, for example, is a mistake. Colony Collapse Disorder has affected bees worldwide, and diseases and viruses can be transmitted through the honey. It seems that new diseases and viruses are being discovered all the time.
Before insulating the beehives for the winter, they should be treated for mite infestations. Personally, I use one of 2 methods. My preferred method is individually misting each frame of bees in the brood chamber with sucrocide. As I spray each frame, I look for frames of drones. These frames are removed from the hive and frozen. They can be reinserted in the spring. Since mites are most attracted to drone larvae, removing the drone larvae can significantly reduce the mite population. Fogging the bees with mineral oil offers some degree of mite control as well. There are many different approaches for treating mites. Whatever your method of choice, it should be done prior to sealing the hives for winter.
In September, healthy hives with at least 150 lbs of honey should be wrapped with insulation. The hive should not be completely airtight, as moisture should be allowed to escape. The hives should be placed such that snow drifts are not substantial. If possible, placing the hives directly under the soffit of a building may keep the hives relatively snow free and dry. During a trip to Austria, I visited a beekeeper that had attached brackets just below the soffits of his home. His beehives rested on these brackets decorating the house between the windows and the soffits.
Some of my hives will overwinter in Granby Colorado, elevation 8300’, wrapped in insulation and stored in an insulated trailer for warmth and moisture abatement. Luckily the bulk of my hives will be in Florida enjoying a wonderful selection of fall and winter nectar. —Jean Vasicek