So, it’s November and you’re wondering, “What do I do to prepare my beehive for the winter?”
With the weather turning, you may need to make adjustments to your beehive’s environment, nutrition as well as brooding patterns.
If this sounds familiar, then read on! Here are all the tips and tricks that will help prepare your beehive for the winter, in whatever climate you live in.
Observe Your Hive
The first step to ensuring bee health and happiness heading into the winter months is to observe the hive. Established hives will produce more honey than ones that are not well established. Being armed with this knowledge will help you customize the next actions to take in securing the hive for winter.
November sees the change of seasons and it is the same for bees. They are preparing for their dormancy period and must be well cared for.
If you observe any erratic behavior from your bees, it could be for a variety of reasons. You may need to work to re-calibrate the bees’ environment, nutrition, or brooding dynamics. The following are a series of tips to complete this recalibration process and ensure the ultimate health of your beehive.
One of the best things you can do for your bees is to ensure their hive is well ventilated. Honeybees produce warmth in the center of the hive, which creates a very moist environment.
Droplets can condense on the roof of the hive and drip down on the bees, which can be harmful. Tilting the hive box so that drainage occurs is one solution to this problem. You can also choose to get a moisture box, which helps to wick away condensation.
If you do choose to insulate your beehive, you must be careful not to increase the moisture accumulation also. It’s a sensitive balance and must be checked often to prevent harm to the hive.
You also need to keep your bees warm so they do not risk cold exposure. Less robust colonies can be harmed by lack of warmth, especially in colder climate zones. You will want to be sure that the hive is placed in the best location possible. When insulating your hive, a winter wrap is a great choice to protect against the elements because it is both wind and waterproof.
The top things to watch out for when choosing the best hive location:
- Presence of pests
- Shade cover, or relief from precipitation patterns
- Fencing or wind-preventing structures
A barn or shed may serve well as a draft-resistant structure during the winter. Placing pest control traps will be especially important in these types of buildings. Be careful the hive is in a place that is also free from pesticides to avoid harmful effects to the hives’ inhabitants. A universal entrance reducer can be placed on the hive to reduce the likelihood of pests entering the hive.
Oxalic acid can be beneficial for beehive mite infestations. However, you should only use it during broodless periods in late fall. You cannot use it honey supers in place.
During warmer winter days, don’t be surprised if you see the bees take flight away from their hive. These cleansing flights keep bees healthy and strong during the winter months. They may also be a key opportunity for you to break out your beekeeping equipment and check the hive for dead bees or pests.
If you are wondering how to keep your favorite pollinator bees fed during the winter, you’re not alone. Mostly, strong beehives will not need help, or for you to take any action at all. But at times, some nutritious hive additions can ensure your beehive makes it through the dormancy period.
There are a couple of actions a beekeeper can take leading into the dormancy period that may help keep the beehive strong:
- Making homemade fondant can sustain your bees through winter and prevent starvation.
- Simply opening a bag of white sugar can feed hungry bees as well. Just be sure to double-check the bag often so it can be replaced when empty.
- Winter patties provide a high carbohydrate feed for honeybee containing sugar, AP23, and Honey-B-Healthy.
Be careful not to use sugars with harmful additives, like molasses or powdered sugar. These will not process in the bees digestive tracts correctly and can cause more harm to the hive.
To know how much assistance your bees may need to keep their nutrition up during the winter, look at their stores of honey. If the honey has been recently depleted or the bees have simply not produced enough, it may be time to add sugar to the mix.
What to Expect From the Queen Bee
The queen bee enters into a dormant state of her own as the beehive enters the winter months. This will affect her behavior and brooding patterns.
Mainly, brooding halts during the colder winter months. A lot of what a beekeeper can do for its queen bee is to make her as comfortable as possible.
Using a queen bee excluder can help you locate the queen bee. This handy piece of equipment helps keep the queen bee in one section of the hive. She is still accessible to all her worker bees and the presence of the excluder helps maintain healthy brooding levels.
Maintaining steady brooding levels can help prevent disease and pests like mites as well. The hive is better positioned to defend itself naturally against these negative effects of the season.
But for all the upsides of using a queen bee excluder, there are a couple of downsides as well. Beekeepers will want to be careful about two things if using a queen bee excluder:
- Separating honey from the brood by force can create problems for the hive in the long term.
- The excluder can be harmful to the worker and drone bees alike. As they fly through the openings, their wings may be damaged in the process.
If the pros outweigh the cons, a queen bee excluder can be a helpful addition to your winter-bound hive.
Last But Not Least
There is a lot to know about keeping beehives healthy and safe during the winter. Nutrition, a healthy environment, and a balanced brood can all help set your bees up for success.
Winter is also a great time to brush up on all your bee-keeping expertise! For more tips, check out our learning center.
For beekeeping equipment and educational materials, visit our online store.