Beehive Wintering

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Beehive winter preparation –How to prepare beehives for winter

Winter is the most difficult season for bees, even more so if the beekeeper hasn't prepared the hives correctly. This is the time of the year when the most losses occur. The successful development and exploitation of colonies in spring is the result of their preparation for winter and their proper wintering. Some beekeepers claim that a 20-40% loss of your apiary is normal during a hard winter.

Winter beehive preparation is closely related with location. Nobody can give you 100% precise advice, unless he/she has lived as an active apiarist for several years in your specific region. However, we will list beekeepers’ most common actions and precautions, most of which have to take place from late September:

1. Check for mites during September. If the mite numbers are rising, treat using a miticide (ask a local expert). If you omit this step, you may end up with a high mites to bees ratio during the winter.

2. Ensure the presence of a new and productive queen in the hive, thereby ensuring good growth and high production.

3. Renew the population during autumn (this is necessary for good wintering and rapid development of colonies in spring).

4. Make combination of weak apiaries with stronger ones.

5. Check for adequate food stocks. The best food for wintering is the honey they have produced and stored. There is a great dispute on the minimum honey quantity required for overwintering. Beekeepers leave from 44 pounds (20 kg) per hive in mild climates up to 130 pounds (60 kg) in regions with very hard winter. Flower honey from a trusted source is also a good food. The consumption is significantly influenced by the length of the winter. The presence of pollen is necessary to maintain the nesting. Many beekeepers also use mixes of 2 parts sugar and 1 part water, in which thyme essential oils are also added (ask local experts). Other apiarists use special fondants. Some beekeepers report that in rare cases they add 5 pounds (2,2kg) of raw dry sugar inside the hive, as the last line of defense against bee starvation and death. In Canada, where the temperature often drops below -22°F (-30°C), beekeepers often put a 50 pounds (22 kg) sugar quantity inside the hive as a routine. Keep in mind that sugar with additives can create dysentery. It is estimated that for a weak beehive of 5 frames, 3 pounds (1,3 kg) of food is enough for 2 weeks during the winter. 

6. Remove unfinished frames.

7. In areas with long and hard winter, it is beneficial to place a sugar pie on the roof of the hive (this ensures the presence adequate food stock and insulate against cold)

8. Block hive entrances (especially low entrances), so that mice and other potential invaders will not manage to enter. However, good ventilation is essential for bees survival, so you shall leave a small window. You can use special wired mice guards. Many apiarists also reduce the upper entrance.

9. In case of strong winds in our area, place a heavy stone in the upper part so as to secure the hive against moving.

10. Many beekeepers also insulate their hives through wrapping them with special tarpaper or simple roof paper. Of course, they always leave a proper entrance, as good ventilation is necessary. However, in some climates this method results in the rapid increase of moisture inside the hive.

11. Do not open the hive in full sun. Open for less than a minute and only when the temperature is above 33°F (0°C).

As a rule of thumb, in regions with long and hard winters, 8 frame hives have consistently more chances to survive and produce honey in spring than 10 frame hives. We generally need to have less room to hive population. 

You can enrich this article by leaving a comment or photo of your winter beehive preparation methods.

1. Beekeeping Basics

2. Understanding Bee Society

3. How Honey is made by Bees

4. Beehive and Equipment Supply

5. Beehive Location

6. Honey Bee Swarming

7. Beehive Wintering

8. How to feed Bees

9. Honey Harvest

10. Bee Diseases

11. Q&As Bees

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