Winter brings many dangers to your beehives. No one wants to check in on their colonies in the springtime only to find a hive full of dead bees. Fortunately, there are several ways to prepare your honey bees and their hives for the cold months ahead. If you spend late summer and fall taking all the right measures, you can set your colonies up for a safe and successful winter. Every climate is different, so make sure you pay attention to your honey bees’ behavior as well as the weather around you to determine when you need to get to work winterizing your hives. As summer fades away, make a checklist to tackle these seven steps to help your honey bees prepare for winter.
Make Sure Your Hive Is Healthy
The healthier your hive is at the end of summer, the better chance it has of surviving the winter. Pay close attention to your last few hive inspections of the season. Before the cold really sets in, make sure your hive has a healthy and productive laying queen. Check the brood pattern within your hive—this is a good way to quickly judge the overall health of the colony. If your queen isn’t laying or is missing entirely, you need to replace her as quickly as possible so that the colony can accept a new queen before winter comes. Additionally, you should pay attention to the honey supply in your hive. Don’t take much during your harvest. This will make sure your honey bees have enough food to last them through the winter.
Provide Food If You Need To
If your honey stores are too light as the season draws to a close, it might be time to start providing food for your hive. You can use a baggie feeder to give your honey bees a sugary nectar substitute. However, remember that your honey bees will stop eating sugar syrup once the temperature gets too cold. Alternatively, you can set up candy boards, fondant, or patties for your honey bees to feast upon. Keep in mind you should only use artificial feed as a last resort—you don’t want your honey bees to rely on your food and be unable to care for themselves. However, these nectar and pollen substitutes are good ways to give your colonies the energy they need to keep their hive warm and survive the winter.
Watch Out for Pests
All the usual threats your honey bees face don’t go away just because the weather gets cold. It’s important to continue watching out for varroa mites and other pests that may creep into your hive. If you see signs of pests or parasites in your hive, make sure you treat them properly before winter hits. You should also reduce the hive entrances to keep out mice, yellow jackets, and robbers from other colonies. Smaller hive entrances give your honey bees less space to defend, which makes it easier for them to ward off threats. You should also trim any tall grass or other vegetation around the base of your beehive. These make it easy for mice, bugs, and other pests to hide beneath or climb up and into the hive.
Find the Best Winter Location
Where do your beehives sit in your yard? When it comes to keeping your honey bees safe and comfortable throughout the winter, location is key. As the temperatures drop and the days get colder, any sunshine that reaches your hives becomes crucial. If you can, move your beehives to an area that gets plenty of sunshine during the day. This will prove invaluable when it comes to helping your honey bees keep their hive warm. As we mentioned above, make sure your honey bees’ winter location doesn’t have tall vegetation. You also need to consider the kinds of winds you get in the winter. Don’t leave your hives out in the open with nothing to block those winter winds. Try to find somewhere with a natural windbreak, such as a fence or a line of bushes. Of course, you can always build your own windbreak by building a fence or placing hay bales around your beehives. Finally, if strong winds are a concern in your area, make sure you weigh down your hives to keep them from toppling over. You can also try putting a skirt around the base of your hives to prevent drafts.
Add Some Insulation
Anyone who has ever lived in a big house knows how hard it is to heat. Beehives work the same way: the more excess room there is, the harder it is for your honey bees to keep their home warm enough. You can help them by insulating and reducing the hive. Provide enough insulation for your colonies by reducing hive entrances and installing hive covers. This latter step is particularly important if you live in colder climates—just make sure you follow the directions for your hive cover so that you don’t harm the air circulation in your hive. You can also reduce the amount of space in your hive by removing empty supers.
…But Not Too Much Insulation
When it comes to the different steps to help your honey bees prepare for winter, ventilation is just as important as insulation. You want to keep your honey bees warm, but you also want to make sure enough fresh air is circulating through the hive. Too much insulation can lead to high humidity levels and moisture buildup in the hive, which can cause problems such as fungi or molds. To create proper ventilation in your hives, add a top entrance. This will allow air to flow between entrances and prevent condensation.
Leave Them to It
Honey bees are hard workers. Most of the time, they know what’s best for their hive. Once your preparations are complete, the best thing you can do is step back and trust in your honey bees to take care of themselves. Don’t open the hive throughout the winter unless you have a warmer day—the temperature should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit at a minimum. Even then, it’s best to just quickly peek inside your beehive to make sure that the cluster is still alive and that there’s enough food for the colony. Other than on these rare occasions, you need to leave your honey bees to their own devices. Messing with the hive might mean letting in cold air or disrupting the cluster that’s working to keep the entire colony warm.
As the summer winds down, make sure you have everything you need to prepare your honey bees for winter. You can find high-quality bee equipment for sale at Kelley Beekeeping. We’ve got the resources you need to set up your hives for success in the coming season.
What does your pre-winter checklist look like? Share your top beekeeping tips with us in the comments below!