Inside: These 6 tips to winterizing bee hives will give you and your bees the boost they need to get through the winter months into spring and blooming flowers! This is one article of many from our beekeeping resources page.
Getting bees on your own property is exciting! It’s hard work, and it may have some nail-biting moments as you wonder what your bees are up to inside their hives. You’ve watched them dance around all summer long, you don’t want all your hard work or theirs to go to waste with winter losses!
Winterizing beehives and getting your bees ready for winter is important. They need to be protected during the winter months from the weather, pests and they need to have enough food and working bees to last through the winter. In our area, we need to have our winterizing done by Halloween.
Here are 6 tips on winterizing beehives and how you should prepare your bees for winter.
1. FOOD All summer, bees are working hard to fill their hive with honey to keep them strong and healthy through the winter months. They’ve got their end of the deal all worked out but they still need our help. After all, they are “paying us” with their wonderful honey.
• After extracting the honey, you will reduce down the hive, taking off all of the honey supers. The smaller the hive, the less drafty it will be and the less likely pests (like mice) will enter looking for a warm and food filled place to stay.
• Look for your healthy and fertile Queen. You should see some brood in your hive as well. If you don’t see a Queen and brood, you may want to order a new Queen as soon as possible.
• Combine weaker hives with stronger hives. This is what we did our first summer of keeping bees. One hive just wasn’t doing well, even with a replacement Queen and we combined the hives and it made a very strong hive going into the winter.
• As you are checking your frames, move the frames filled with honey so they are surrounding the bee cluster on each side and above (if using the Langstroth hive). This will allow for them to more easily move around through the winter to get to their food source.
• You will also want to provide them with sugar-water in the early spring. If you know that your bees are going into the winter with low amounts of honey, you will want to keep them going with the sugar-water, so that they are eating both the sugar-water and honey simultaneously. This way they are getting the micro-nutrients from the honey and don’t just end up eating only sugar-water in the spring. You can also add pollen patties to your hives as well. Using BeePro is a great way to give your bees the nutrients they need.
• Bees will also take cleansing flights on warmer, windless days to relieve themselves of fecal matter and to clean out the dead bees. Don’t fret if you see dead bees littering the snow around the hive! It is normal for bees to die in the hive and for the cleaning bees to do housework and drop dead bees outside the hive. They will also collect water to thin down the honey they eat and feed to the brood.
2. HIVE BOX CARE If you know that your bottom boards, boxes, frames or covers need any repairs, this would be a great time to fix them. If you are expanding your beekeeping, winter is also a great time to put together and paint any more boxes you may have acquired.
3. MEDICATION If you are going to give them any medication for mites or diseases, this would be the best time to do that. Keep in mind that you need to read the packaging of any medication carefully. For instance, a mite treatment may say “leave in the hive for 42 days”. So six weeks before you do your final work on your hives before winter, you need to put in the mite treatment.
This Apivar treatment would be an example of an available mite treatment. Just know that your bees probably have a 100% chance of getting mites and they will kill your hive. You can also read more about mite treatments here.
4. SHELTER They will need protection from the wind. If you are in an area with high winds, building a shelter belt out of pallets or straw bales will help keep the hive less drafty. If you are using pallets, it would look a lot like our pallet fence we use for our small livestock.
5. INSULATION If you are in an area up north with high winds, very cold temperatures and lots of snow, I would recommend wrapping your hives with insulation (as shown in the pictures below). This is a great way to help them stay warm.
But if you do this, make sure that you have also allowed for ventilation. Bees get cold and work very hard together to stay warm but wet and cold bees would be disastrous. Read more about wrapping a hive with insulation, making a moisture quilt and a candy board here.
6. SURROUNDING AREA Look around the area where you keep your hives:
• Are there tall weeds or grass that need to be taken care of so rodents and pests don’t set up residence near your hive?
• Is it in danger of flooding and need to be moved to higher ground?
• Are there any dead tree branches above the hive that could break off and fall in a wind storm?
• Do you live in an area where bears might want a tasty treat? (Install bear electric fence)
These 6 tips of giving your bees food, medication, shelter, insulation and fixing your equipment and the surrounding hive area, will give you and your bees the boost they need to get through the winter months and on into spring and blooming flowers!
Please feel free to download and print out this free PDF checklist, WINTERIZING MY BEEHIVE, by clicking above.
You may also find this article helpful: Bees: 10 Helpful Tips to Get Started With Bees
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