Now that you’ve done your fall inspections (if you haven’t, now’s the time!), we’ll cover some more tips and techniques to set your bees up to survive this winter.
Please note: Any information or suggestions that we give for what to do in specific climates are really just general suggestions. You should consult a local beekeeper to determine what is best for bees in your location, as factors vary greatly depending on local temperature and humidity (and even the specific strain of your bees!).
Ensure That You Have a Strong Queen and Healthy Brood Pattern
Your hive needs a strong queen and a healthy brood pattern, which will be a bit smaller than normal, to survive the winter. If your queen is nowhere to be found, or your brood pattern isn’t looking like it should, you may want to consider either combining your hive with another or requeening.
Requeening – If you decide to requeen a colony, consider keeping the old queen alive until you’re sure that the new one has been accepted (and is laying well). You could even put the old queen in a nuc box.
Combining Colonies – Don’t attempt to winter a hive that isn’t strong and healthy. One way to prevent that is by combining a weak hive with a strong one. Never combine a weak hive with another weak hive!
Make Sure There’s Enough Food
Now is the time to check your hives to ensure that they each have enough food. If you are a beekeeper in the United States, below is a rough estimate for how much food your hives should have:
- Northern climates: 80-90 pounds
- Central climates: 50 pounds
- Southern climates: 30 pounds
These are rough estimates meant to get you thinking ahead. The amount of food your bees will need depends on their strain, local climate, and current health. Consult local beekeepers to determine a more accurate estimate.
To gauge weight, you can bring a scale out to your hive to weigh it, or, if you’ve got a knack for feeling weights, you can lift up a deep hive body. Another thing you can do is estimate using the knowledge that a fully-filled deep frame holds around five to eight pounds of honey, and a fully-filled medium frame holds around three to five pounds.
If you don’t think your hives are going to last the winter, you can consider supplemental feeding. Some types of supplemental feeding include:
Sugar water/heavy syrup – The most common way to supplement your bees’ diet is with a heavy syrup mixture, which is a sugar-to-water ratio of 2:1 (by weight). Bring the water to a boil, remove it from the heat, add the sugar, and then stir until it’s fully dissolved. If possible, add honey to the mixture to ensure the bees are getting their vitamins – just make sure that your honey isn’t coming from an unknown source; otherwise, you might accidentally introduce disease spores into your hive.
BeesVita Plus – Another option is to use BeesVita Plus supplements. These supplements are full of nutrients that improve bees’ health, and can even reduce symptoms associated with Colony Collapse Disorder!
Candy board – These boards are another way to provide sugar to your bees. They are easy to make, and there are countless recipes online for you to find the perfect one for you and your bees!
Winter patties – These are great for your bees, especially if they are clustering. Just place the winter patty on top of the frames, and the bees can eat it without even leaving the cluster.
Insulate and Ventilate
Most of these insulation tips will be geared towards beekeepers in northern climates, but beekeepers from all over will find some value in them. Unfortunately, many beekeepers focus on insulation but often forget that ventilation is just as important. Without ventilation, the warm air the bees generate will rise, hit the top cover, and condense into water before falling back down on the bees.
As the temperatures drop, you can think about doing these things to ventilate and/or insulate:
- Windbreak – Especially in northern and windy climates, consider building a windbreak, such as a bale of straw. Providing a windbreak is more important than wrapping your hives!
- Wrap your hives – You really only need to wrap your hives if you live in a northern climate. Once the temperatures start to dip below freezing during the day, you may want to consider wrapping with either tar paper or a Bee Cozy Wrap. NEVER wrap your hive with tightly-wrapped plastic, as it will suffocate your bees. Beekeepers in central and southern climates almost never need to wrap their hives. When in doubt, use some of these other methods of insulation before wrapping. Wrapping should be a last resort!
- Reduce hive entrances – By reducing hive entrances, you will help keep the hive warm and prevent other critters from entering the hive. You may even want to purchase a mouse guard to prevent rodents from damaging your comb.
- Inner cover – If you don’t already, consider using an inner cover underneath your outer cover.
- Solid vs. screened bottom boards – This is yet another age-old beekeeping debate. Each has its advantages and disadvantages: Solid bottom boards keep in the heat better, but screened bottom boards provide better ventilation. It’s your choice, depending on where you live and how your hives winter.
- Extra insulation – If you are in a northern (or especially cold) climate, consider adding some extra insulation underneath the outer cover of your hive. This will help prevent heat loss from below. Newspaper, straw, and burlap are all great insulators, and they absorb moisture as well
- You can also consider using a Hot Box Winterizer, a great insulator that sits on top of your hives and acts as a second entrance, in case the bottom entrance to your hive is covered by snow. It even comes with a moisture board! If you want to purchase a moisture board separately, we also offer those in 8 and 10-frame.
Monitor and Keep Pests and Diseases in Check
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to check your hives for pests. If you plan on treating for pests, focus on treating for varroa mites, as their breeding rate is ramping up this time of year. For one of the most effective ways available to treat for varroa, check out our new Oxalic Acid Vaporizer.We offer a variety of other products as well, which can be found under the Bee Health section of our online shop.
The Three R’s: Reduce, Reposition and Repair
Reduce – Decrease extra space in your hive by removing empty honey supers. If using a top bar hive, reduce the hive area with follower boards.
Reposition – Once your hive begins to form a loose cluster, reposition the cluster frame to the center of the bottommost deep hive body. You’ll want to put frames of honey on both sides and above the cluster so that they have easy access to food. In top bar hives, put the cluster on one end of the hive and the frames of honey next to it.
You may also want to reposition where your hives are located. Look for a place on high ground with some shelter to avoid humidity and maximize sun exposure. Consider elevating your hives for better air circulation, and maybe even tilt them so that excess moisture can drain out the front.
Repair – Fix up all of your equipment, including boxes, bottom boards, and covers. It’s best to do it now than when you need it in the dead of winter!
If you want to keep a closer eye on your bees after inspection, try BroodMinder. The BroodMinder is a small, thin plastic strip that constantly monitors the temperature and humidity of your hive. It stores the data once per hour and sends those hourly updates to your tablet or smartphone using Bluetooth signal. The data is then anonymously sent to the BroodMinder website as part of a worldwide scientific collection. All you have to do is place the strip on top of your frames, download the app on your device, and stay updated on how your hives are doing!