When To Start Winterizing Beehives
Preparation for winterizing your beehives begins early. Once July is over, you really need to get going.
You have to make sure the mite count is way down. Additionally, the pantry has to be adequately stocked for the bees to make it through the winter.
Although you will need to keep an eye on the colony and check on them from time to time, you want to minimize the number of times you need to open the hive.
Stores can be checked by weighing the box. The size of the colony will determine how much honey they need.
In addition to that, the severity of the winter will also determine how much honey theyll need. The more severe the winter, the longer they have to remain indoors.
Even when the landscape starts to thaw out, the blooms are still not available to provide nutrition for our little workers.
In fact, many beekeepers lose their colonies at the beginning of spring.
Sometimes, the sun comes out, and the colony starts to exercise those wings. By going out to rediscover their environment, they burn through even more food. By this time, the queen has begun laying eggs, meaning there are more mouths to feed.
Dont Forget About Them
You shouldnt go outside and go through your bees in the winter. When wintering bees, you need to pretty well leave them be.
But there is one exception. If you have a day that is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit then you should quickly raise the lid to the hive just to make sure that your bees food supply isnt running low. This is important.
And the reason for that is that most hives are lost in the winter because of freezing and starvation.
Now, how sad would that be if you could salvage your hive simply by adding a little more fondant or a few more grease patties?
So just be aware of what is going on inside your hive. Again, dont go through your hives. Just briskly lift the lid, make sure they have enough food, and then close it and place the hive cover back on It is that simple.
The Life Cycle Of Varroa Mites
Varroa Mites reproduce inside of capped brood cells. The mites sneak into the brood cells and hide underneath the brood. Once the cells are sealed, the mites will start laying their eggs. These small mites feed off of the fat of your brood and by doing so they can transmit up to 20 different diseases to your colony.
While the Varroa Mites are sealed inside the cells, they are hard to kill. Once the bee brood has hatched, the Varroa Mites will cling onto the bees like ticks on a dog. They hold on until they find their next cell to breed in. This vicious cycle increases the population of mites almost all year long. The Varroa population doubles every three weeks between springtime and the onset of the broodless period.
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The Buzz On Beehive Winterization
Beekeepers have various strategies available to them to prepare their hives for winter. Read below to find out which methods SugarCreeks beekeepers used this fall!
Installing Mouse Guards SugarCreeks beekeepers began hive winterization by installing mouse guards and insulating the bees main hive entrance. The goal of winterization is to insulate the hives and keep them as warm as possible, but only for the bees! The mouse guards keep out other little creatures that might be looking for a warm home for the winter. Insulation placed in the bees main hive entrance is arranged in a way that allows the bees to come and go from the hive, while still protecting them from the wind and cold.
Insulating the Hive Insulating hive sleeves are then placed around the outside of the hives. This is the main insulating device, so it is important that the sleeve fit snugly. The sleeve must also not block the two main entrances to and from the hive to allow for proper ventilation and to allow the bees to enter and exit the hive before the cold winter weather arrives. A fitted piece of fiberglass insulation is also placed on the top box of the hive prior to replacing the lid so heat does not escape through the top.
Suggestions For Wintertime Preparations
Even though it is possible to correct problems in winter, it is best to avoid those situations if you can. Below I have listed some things beekeepers can do to prepare for winter. The ones you choose should be based on your particular conditions and hive type. No one needs to do all of them, and you may do some I havent listed. I find that my preparations vary even within my own apiary. My top-bar hive gets different treatment than my Langstroths, and my hillside hives are a little different than those closer to buildings.
My wintertime time prep starts with a notebook. After my honey supers are off, I go around to each hive and make a simple sketch of what is there. I put one hive on a page and record just what I see. If any extra equipment is near the hive, I mention that too. That small sketch reminds me of what I need to do before winter. Looking at the sketch, I make my list.
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Preparing Beehives For Winter
Bees have lived for millions of years without our intervention. They have a survival plan that involves storing honey to use as food during the cold months of the year. With this bee survival plan in place, why should beekeepers be concerned about preparing their hives for Winter?
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Honestly, good beehive Winter preparation is probably more important today than in the past. One reason is that our environment is not the same as it was even 50 years ago.
Honey bees, and other pollinators, face extreme changing weather conditions. Unusually, bitter Winters and wild temperate swings interfere with the natural survival mechanisms of the bees.
Also, we keep bees in man-made hives that are very different from natural bee homes. Most modern hives provide less insulation than a tree cavity. Therefore the change in temperature would be vastly different.
Because we keep honey bee colonies in less than natural situations, we have a responsibility to do what we can to help them survive. Good Winter beekeeping depends on proper preparation in Fall.
Insert An Entrance Reducer
When you prepare to wrap the hive, begin by closing any extra holes in the bottom boxes and, instead, have the holes on the top box. Insert an entrance reducer- a barrier placed at the entrance of a beehive that will reduce the size of the opening. An entrance reducer controls ventilation and the temperature within the hive.
An entrance reducer reduces the likelihood of food robbing. Food robbing is when honeybees invade other hives and steal their stored honey. The invading bees will rip open capped cells, fill their honey stomachs, and bring the stolen honey back to their homes. Food robbing can occur any time of the year, but it is most prominent in the late summer. Some beekeepers choose to use an entrance reducer all-year around. At the very least, use an entrance reducer in the winter. An entrance reducer makes it more difficult for hive robbers and other animals to gain access into the hive. This also makes the jobs of guard bees a lot easier.
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Condensation The Winter Beehive Killer
Condensation is a bee killer. This is a bigger problem in some regions than others. If you live in an area with moist Winters this could be an issue. Attempting to feed sugar water in cold weather adds to the problem.
Condensation forms when excess moisture from the warm cluster rises and condenses into water droplets on the inner cover. When temperatures rise above freezing, cold water rains back down on the cluster. Cold wet bees are dead bees.
Beekeepers who live in damp regions or very cold regions where condensation is a concern have several options.
They may add an extra shallow super or medium on top of the inner cover or top super. This added space can be filled with several type of materials to absorb extra moisture: hay, straw or crumpled newspaper often called a hive quilt.
An upper entrance can help warm, humid air escape and may be necessary in regions with a lot of snow. Rather than drilling holes in your bee boxes. You may use a small shim during Winter that allows an upper opening.
In the process of Winterizing Hives, avoid trying to keep the bees warm. Good ventilation for your hives with protection from cold winds is the best plan.
Protect The Entrance From Mice
Mice love to invade hives in the late fall, when clustering bees are less able to defend their territory. Some beekeepers use 3/8-inch hardware cloth stapled over the entrance you can also drive finishing nails into the entrance reducer opening at 3/8 spacing. This spacing allows bees to come and go, but keeps mice out.
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A Plan For Overwintering Success
I have combined colonies at 20 degrees F. I have added mouse traps in the 30s. And Ive fed bees in the rain, wind, snow, and dark. Is it ideal? No. Can it be done successfully? Of course.
Whenever I have to deal with bees in less-than-perfect conditions, I first write a plan. What must I do? In what order will I do it? What equipment do I need? If I know the answers to these questions and prepare my equipment in advance, I can often be in and out of a hive in less than a minute. But even if it takes longer, you are better off than the beekeeper who does nothing because of the weather.
2022 Beginner Beekeeping Course
The Rockwood Park Backyard Beekeepers Association is holding their annual Beginning Beekeeping Course over 4 Saturdays from end of January to beginning of March.
Attendees will receive instruction on the basics of beekeeping, the various equipment including hive components and tools, diseases and pests, what to expect in the first year, how to purchase and install your bees, sources of pollen and nectar, and a hands on field day in the clubs apiary.
Class dates will be Jan 22, Feb 5, Feb 19, & Mar 5th alternating Saturdays with the Huguenot Beekeepers Association . Participants who are unable to make a class at RPBBA, may attend and receive the same instruction at HBA.
The course is $100 through Jan 8th and $115 thereafter.We are limited to 40 participants enrollment includes a 1-year membership to RPBBA.
For more information, including a sign-up form, please see our website rockwoodbeekeepers.com/beginner-beekeeping.
Condensation: Good And Bad
Once youve insulated a hive the environment becomes much more controlled. Condensation will be more likely to occur in non-insulated areas of a hive. Many beekeepers subsequently ventilate well-insulated hives less in winter, as condensation has been managed. That said, while managing condensation is one thing, you dont need to go overboard and attempt to eliminate it.
Cold air cant hold much moisture. Therefore when the heat from the cluster interacts with cold air within the hive condensation can form. This condensation can even turn into accumulated ice in the hive in very cold environments, and in some circumstances can drip down on top of the cluster. Either case is to be avoided.
Bees still need water in the winter and condensation may be how they get it when they cannot fly. This water can be used to rehydrate honey crystalized in combs, helping to sustain a winter colony. What is to be avoided at all costs in condensation forming above the cluster, subsequently dripping back down on the bees. Some ventilation will be required no matter how insulated your hives are. Make sure your bottom entrances dont become blocked by snow, one more benefit of using a hive stand.
Reducing Down The Entrance Of The Hive
Bees that know how to close up the hive entrance will have closed up their entrance with propolis, leaving a few small openings. If the bees have the genetic ability or memory they will best know how much they will need to close their entrance. And they will reopen when necessary.
Bees have propolized down the entrance for winter
Reducing down the entrance helps to keep cold winds from entering the hive and it also reduces the amount of robbing your hive may be experiencing. It is best to watch the bees to see if they naturally begin to reduce the entrance on their own with propolis.If the bees have reduced down their entrance with propolis there is no needto do anything with the entrance!If by the end of October you have not observed the bees closing up the hive, you will need to help them by putting some small twigs, straw, or grass over part of the entrance. With materials like these, the bees can push out the twigs or straw on their own when they need to. Learn more about Entrance Reducing your hive
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Checklist To Prepare Your Hive For The Winter:
1) Assess Honey Stores – Feel the weight of your hive. Install a feeder cup if your bees dont have enough honey stored to make it through the winter
2) Move the false back forward
3) Reducing down the entrance of the hive if the bees have not
4) Insulate the hive – the most important step for winterizing
Protect Food And Feed Food
All summer, bees are working hard to fill their hive with honey to keep them strong and healthy through the winter months. Theyve 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 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 dont 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 wasnt 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 . This will allow them to more easily move around through the winter to get to their food source.
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Feeding Bees In Winter
Feeding bees in winter isn’t the most labor intensive activity. In fact, this part of the winter beekeeping process only needs to be done if you missed a step or two while preparing hives for winter. If you did it right, you probably won’t find yourself in an emergency or having to feed your bees till the February pollen push.
Depending on how much extra food you’ve stuffed into your hive back in the fall, it is possible for the bees to run out. Especially once February and March roll around.
If you forgot to add food into their hive, you may need to crack open the hive on the warmest day.
In general, cracking open a hive is not the best idea during winter because it breaks the propolis that the bees have stuffed into the crevasses to get their desired heat and ventilation. But if you have to add food, then be quick and do it when the temperatures are as close to or above 55°F as you can.
Wintering Bees At The Right Time
There is no specific date as to when you should begin wintering bees. You just have to be aware of what is going on in your hive and what the weather is doing.
So if you go out in your hives and you realize that the queen isnt laying in all of the hive bodies, then you need to begin to shrink the physical size of the hive. We just did this a few weeks ago.
As far as the rest of the steps, when you realize that the weather is getting cold and staying that way, then it is time for wintering bees. Some suggest doing this at the end of October or sometime in November.
Really, it depends upon where you are located and what your weather is like that year.
For instance, we had a warm winter last year. So we didnt have to winterize the hive until December. But if you live someplace tropical, then obviously you wont have to worry about winterizing your hive period.
So just do some research about keeping bees in your area so youll know when most seasoned beekeepers in your location begin wintering bees.
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How The Cluster Changes With Temperature
Once temperatures drop into the 50s , a honey bee colony will start to cluster, to conserve heat and to protect the queen. This survival mechanism reduces the surface area of the colony and thus it’s external exposure to cold air. Around 40 degrees, the colony experiences a very low metabolic rate. Because of this they will consume the least amount of stores, compared to what we see at other temperatures. In fact, beekeepers who overwinter indoors in a temperature-controlled environment seek to maintain a temperature of around 40 degrees, for just this reason.
Once temperatures fall below 40 degrees, however, bees deploy another tactic. Bees inside the cluster start to vibrate their wing muscles, in an attempt to generate heat and keep the interior of the cluster warm. Bees on the outside, exposed edge of the cluster will be largely still, acting collectively as an insulation layer. No direct attempt is made by the cluster to raise ambient temperature within the hive. Their actions are all about maintaining a survivable temperature within the cluster, with the primary focus on protecting the queen. The colder it gets, the greater the requirement to consume stores, with energy needs increasing as bees attempt to keep the cluster at an acceptable inner temperature.