With cold winter weather upon us, most bee populations have taken to their hives to nestle down with their colony and their honey for the winter. The winter season is a harsh time for most of nature, but with the right winterizing supplies and preparation, your bees can make it through and be a strong hive come springtime.
As your bees prepare for winter, there are some beekeeping tasks you should be completing alongside the colony. Your bees rely on you for a safe, dry, and warm location to successfully endure the winter.
Here’s all you need to know about keeping your hives set up for success through the cold, dark winter months.
Know Your Climate
When preparing your beehive for the winter months, it’s important to know what kinds of weather you’re up against.
Extra insulation is a major benefit for your beehive if your area gets extremely low temperatures. If you expect fierce winds, secure the hive’s lids or add a hive cover. You can also shield the base and any ventilation holes to prevent drafts from disrupting the bees.
Take into consideration whether you’ll face a lot of precipitation or flooding. Snow can act as a natural insulator, but your hives need to keep out any moisture to prevent excess humidity.
Being in tune with the climate and the various types of weather your bees may experience will help you to prepare the hive. While beekeeping requires a certain amount of effort, we can’t be too involved in preparing our bees. They know what they’re doing, but it’s important you do your part in ensuring the hives are prepared for inclement weather.
Set Up the Yard
Take a look at your yard and imagine it’s the dead of winter: Are your hives in the best spot to handle the winter months?
Make sure your honey bees are in a position that receives plenty of sunlight and as little wind as possible to help them through the winter months. Consider placing a windbreak—or utilize existing ones, such as a line of trees or shrubs—to protect your hive from the bitter winds in your region.
If you get excess precipitation or flooding through the winter, move your hive to higher, safer ground to keep it dry until spring.
If you’re expecting a lot of wind gusts, you can secure the hives with rope or bricks to ensure they won’t topple during heavy wind. Wind can damage hives, so if your area is known to be gusty during the winter, plan accordingly.
Examine the hive’s base and eliminate any excess vegetation so pests can’t hide beneath the hive or climb up to use it for shelter. Creating a safe, ideal space for the bees will ensure their well-being for the long winter, no matter how chilly it gets.
Reduce Hive Entrances
Weather isn’t the only threat in the wintertime. Rodents and other small creatures and critters looking for a wintertime shelter will see your beehive as the perfect spot—it’s warm, protected, and full of food.
Keep these intruders at bay by making the hive entrance as small as possible. Your bees won’t need a large opening while they’re sheltering for the winter, and it’ll help keep the cold out as well. It’s a win-win!
It’s also worth considering attaching a mouse guard to the hive entrance. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the entrance throughout the season to ensure it doesn’t get completely covered by snow and trap the bees inside the hive.
Many beekeepers still check in on their bees throughout winter to ensure their hives are doing well. This leads to an increase in the population of healthy bees in the coming months, which can make your beekeeping duties and tasks easier come spring.
Keep Mites Out
Pests can endanger your hive, especially in the winter, and Varroa mites are some of the most formidable enemies to bees. These mites feed on broods and come in much larger numbers during the fall. Because of this, keeping mites and parasites far away from your honey bees at all costs is critical.
If Varroa invades the hive at this time of year, they can ruin the population of worker bees, meaning the colony won’t be able to make as much food ahead of winter. To prevent this, consider treating the colony for Varroa mites as part of your winter preparations so your bees are protected throughout the season.
Remove Excess Space
Extra space in your hive makes it drafty and more difficult to keep warm. Make your hive better fit the colony within it by removing extra supers. You can also use follower boards to make the hive area smaller, especially if you use a top bar hive.
Not only does a smaller hive size keep your honey bees warmer throughout the winter, but it also leaves less room for intruders to enter. Try to create a safe, small space for your bees to spend the next few months that is dry, ventilated, and warm.
While arranging your beehive, make sure the honey frames are positioned so the bee cluster will have easy access to food throughout the season. Proper arrangement of the honey frames is critical for your winter prep, so be sure to do this properly before you tuck your honey bees in for the season.
Maintain Beekeeping & Hive Equipment
Now is the best time to inspect and fix any equipment needing attention. Ensure all your boxes, boards, and covers are in good shape and can keep the worst of the weather out.
Clean anything that needs it, and make any necessary repairs or replacements to your beekeeping equipment and supplies. If there’s any equipment you don’t need during the winter, ensure it’s clean and in good condition before storing it somewhere safe.
Insulate the Hive
Your honey bees will cluster together and warm the colony, but you can help them by preparing the hive for extremely cold temperatures. Wrapping the hive keeps out strong winds, and black roofing felt can absorb warmth on sunny winter days.
Foam insulation boards can also keep drafts out and warmth in, but be careful when covering hives. Ventilation is just as important as insulation. Too much moisture buildup inside the hive leads to deadly condensation or dysentery.
To avoid excess moisture, ensure plenty of air can come in and out through the bottom and top of the hive. This creates cross-ventilation and keeps humidity levels low for the honey bees.
Keep a Healthy Queen
A healthy, laying queen is vital to your colony’s survival. While you’re preparing your hive for winter, ensure the queen is strong and has a healthy brooding pattern. If this isn’t the case, you have some options.
You can requeen the colony, but be sure to keep the old queen alive until you’re sure the new one is accepted. You can also consider combining the colony with another one. Putting a weak or queenless colony with a strong one improves its survival chances for the winter, and the smaller colony often accepts the new colony’s queen with ease.
Combining colonies might be a good idea anyway since larger colonies will have a stronger, warmer cluster, more food stored, and a better overall chance of survival. Many beekeepers combine hives (especially smaller ones) to help them have a better chance of surviving the winter.
Just remember to never combine two weak hives. Always put a weak hive with a stronger one to increase the chances of the weak hive getting back on its feet. You should also ensure that the stronger colony has enough food stores to feed the weaker colony all winter as well.
Provide Enough Food
Before winter hits, ensure your hive has enough food to last through the season. The amount of food that bees need depends on the climate and the colony’s overall health, but remember that honey bees eat a lot in winter to stay warm and survive the cold temperatures.
If it looks like there isn’t enough honey to keep the colony alive through the winter, it’s time to set up feeders. Providing a nectar or pollen substitute ensures your bees have the energy to stay warm and keep a thriving colony throughout the season and into the springtime. You can also offer sugar syrup or pollen patties to boost vitamins and minerals for your honey bees.
The Final Buzz on Keeping Honey Bees Warm in the Winter
Honey bees are amazingly hard workers. If your colony is successful, it’ll have a large enough honey supply and a strong population to make it through the upcoming cold season. However, these tips on caring for a beehive in winter can help ensure their survival and keep your busy little friends around for another fruitful year.
Take the necessary steps to prepare your honey bees for winter, and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that you’ve done everything you can to help them survive. Before you know it, you’ll be back out in the yard checking on them, and spring will have sprung!
For additional information on winter prep, check out our guide on winterizing and insulating your hive.