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Preparing Beehives For Winter

Two beehives in winter covered in snow Bees prepare for winter by performing a multitude of tasks that ensure the hive’s survival during the cold months. The priority is to gather and store nectar and pollen to have plenty in reserves. Honey bees have one main job in the winter — to take care of the queen bee. This means they must keep her safe and warm.

  Preparations

Before winter female worker bees force male bees (drones) out of the nest because they eat too much. The honey bee is cold-blooded; they need to maintain warm temperatures in the hive to keep themselves alive during the harsh winter months. To do this, the worker bees join forces in the form of a cluster. They huddle together with the queen bee at the center.

Never open the hive in frigid temperatures, even if for only a few moments as the intense cold can kill the bees.

  Ensure You Have A Strong Queen

Beekeeper inspecting honeybee super 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 Is Enough Food

Now is the time to check your hives to ensure that they each have enough food. If you are a beekeeper in Wisconsin, you should have 80 to 90 pountds of food in your hives. The amount of food your bees will need depends on their strain, local climate, and current health

Open honey bee hive with beehive patty 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 3 to 5 pounds.

  Types Of Supplemental Feeding

  Sugar Water or 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 he 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.

  Monitor For Pests And Disease

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.

  Insulate And Ventilate

Wrapping a beehive for winter Iinsulation can be critical in northern Wisconsin. 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.

  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 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 Versus 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 Insualtion

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.

  Hot Box Winterizer

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.

We hope you and your bees are faring well this winter! We’re excited to see what spring brings.

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