Beehive winter preparation –How to prepare beehives for winter

Winter is the most difficult season for bees, especially 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 honey production of colonies in spring and summer is greatly related to their preparation for the previous winter and their proper wintering. Some beekeepers claim that a 20-40% loss of the colonies is normal during a hard winter, so don’t get disappointed from a loss. The key is to be proactive rather than reactive.

Winter beehive preparation differs significantly from place to place. Nobody can give you 100% precise advice, unless he/she has lived as an active beekeeper 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 fall (September-October in most areas):

1.) During the winter, we may have to transfer our hives to sunny and well drained areas, protected from strong winds. If you do transfer them, be sure to choose a spot at least 3 miles (4,8 km) away from the initial location, because otherwise, if you do not apply reorientation measures, the foraging bees can get confused and return to the initial place.

2.) Check for mites during fall (September-October in most areas). If the mite numbers are rising, you may have to take drastic measures (ask a local expert). During winter, Mother Nature intentionally reduces the population of honeybees in a colony, so that the colony has less energy needs and more chances to survive. However, the population of mites may not be reduced at the same rate. If you skip this step, you may end up with a high “mites to bees” ratio during the winter.

3.) Make the standard hive inspection and look for the existence of a new and productive queen in the hive. Having a young and thriving queen is necessary for good growth during fall and colony survival during the winter. During fall, the queen is supposed to lay many eggs, from which thousands of workers will emerge. Contrary to workers that emerge during spring and live 6 weeks on average, these workers will live on average 4-5 months and will carry the heavy duty of heating the hive and keep the queen warm. At some point during late fall, queen is genetically programmed to stop laying eggs until next spring, so her egg laying ability during fall is maybe the most important factor for the colony’s survival. If you see that she is not doing her job properly, you may have to replace her as soon as possible.

4.) As a rule of thumb, in regions with long and hard winters, we generally need to have less room compared to hive population. Our purpose is to create less room compared to hive population, so that honeybees will need less energy to heat their place. Moreover, in this way, intruders will find less room and hence will be discouraged from entering a hive. Most beekeepers remove all empty supers from late fall.

5.) Make combination of weak colonies with stronger ones. According to the old beekeepers’ slogan, it is better to have two strong colonies in the spring than 4 dead ones. This is the time of the year (fall) that you may have to combine weak with strong colonies (never combine two weak colonies).

6.) Remove the frames with unfinished honey, as it may cause dysentery to bees.

7.) Check regularly 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) or more in regions with hard winter. The consumption is significantly influenced by the length of the winter. Many beekeepers also use the famous sugar syrups, that is various homemade mixes of 2 parts sugar and 1 part water, in which thyme essential oils are often added (ask local experts). Other apiarists use special fondants. Keep in mind that all these syrups and fondants are carefully put inside the hives, because otherwise they will attract other insects and predators. Some beekeepers report that in rare cases they add 5 pounds (2,2 kg) of dry granulated 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), some beekeepers 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. Pollen is also necessary, so many beekeepers use candy mix with pollen powder if there isn’t sufficient stock in the hive.

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

9.) 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.

10.) In case of strong winds in your area, you can place a heavy stone in the upper part so as to secure the hive against moving.

11.) 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 for bees’ survival. However, in some climates this method results in the rapid increase of moisture inside the hive. Search for advice from local apiarists and observe if other beekeepers wrap their hives.

12.) Do not open the hive during the cold days of winter, no matter how anxious you are. The heat will escape rapidly and the bees will need a lot of effort and energy to create this heat again. Use common sense. Open for less than a minute and only when the temperature has risen above certain levels (ask local experts).

13.) It is a good idea to check regularly and clean the beehives’ surrounding area from rubbish and unwanted vegetation. For example, if a cat, a small hedgehog or a raccoon has died somewhere close to the hives and has not been removed, the smell will certainly attract many potential intruders of our colonies (mice, insects etc.). Having a clean surrounding area ensures hygiene and provides no refuge for potential invaders. This applies all year round, but our colonies are more vulnerable to intruders during winter.

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

1.) Beekeeping for Beginners

2.) Honey Bee Society Structure and Organization

3.) How Honey is made by Bees

4.) Beehive and Equipment Supply

5.) Beehive Location and Placement

6.) How to feed Bees

7.) Honey Bee Swarming

8.) Preparing Beehives for winter

9.) Harvesting Honey

10.) Common Bee Diseases & Pests

11.) Major Honeybee Pests

12.) Major Honey Bee Diseases

13.) Bee Poisoining from Pesticides

14.) Q&A on Bees

15.) Where to sell your honey

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