Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Winter beekeeping

Beekeepers want to ensure that their bees survive through the winter months. Pollen is in short supply or non existent for the bees to harvest, therefore, they must have easy access to a food source. While beekeepers are to make sure the bees do not exhaust the food reserves, many wonder 'what are the incorrect things beekeepers can do over winter?'

One of the common mistakes beekeepers carry out is going into the hive constantly and releasing the stored heat in the hive. Worker bees are rarely found outside of the hive when temperatures are below 57 degrees (F) and once it reaches 55 degrees (F), bees are unable to fly. During winter months, they will cluster in the brood chamber and maintain a constant temperature of 94 degrees (F). Going into the hive will release this heat and will cause stress upon the colony. Only visit the hive in emergency situations if temperatures fall below 55 degrees (F).

One of the more serious issues in the hive over winter is the moisture content. It might seem fitting to close off your hive to help maintain a constant heat inside but you are also trapping in the moisture. It is best to keep the hive ventilated (ventilated inner cover works great) and reduce the size. The bees will create one big cluster within the brood chamber and will need 50 - 60 pounds of honey stores going into winter. Any supers that were not fully drawn need to be removed from the hive to limit the empty space the bees need to maintain. Remove these underdeveloped supers and ventilate your hive to help the bees reduce moisture and keep a constant hive temperature.


Certain feed and feeders are not practical during winter. Corn syrup and sugar water will crystallize and become hard for the bees to acquire. An entrance feeder and hive top feeders are not easy access for the cluster to proceed to. The cluster will need direct access to feed that will be easy to consume during the winter. Using  fondant, which can lay right on the top bars, or a wintering inner cover that can be used as a candy board are the best options. Both of these are great because the fondant and candy help absorb some of the moisture in the hive and are easily accessible to the colony.

Limit your activities within your bee hives, do not close up or leave unused supers on and make sure that you provide the proper feeders and feed for your bees. This will help keep your bees warm, dry and fed throughout the winter.