Your winter beehive setup will depend on your location and the severity of the cold season. This post is aimed at those of you in a cold climate, where winters are long and snow can be expected.
The days are getting shorter and there’s a chill in the air. Summer is long since gone, and it’s time for bees to bed down and sit out the winter. Before it gets too cold, you should remove the Flow super(s) from your hive(s), as the bees won’t be foraging over the coming months. It’s really important to be sure that your bees have adequate food supplies to see them through the season.
So let’s go through the process of preparing your hives for winter. You want to make sure there are no bees remaining in the supers when you remove them, and that the honey gets cleaned out before you store them for the winter. You should remove the supers before the temperature drops too much, as you don’t want to open up the hive and expose the bees to the cold.
In a cold climate with a long winter, you want to have plenty of honey stores for your bees. This could consist of a deep brood box and a medium super. Once these are filled with capped honey, you can put the Flow super on top, so you don’t deplete the bees’ winter stores when you harvest honey. You can also add a feeder if you feel the honey stores are not sufficient to see your bees through until spring.
Before you put the inner cover and roof onto your hive, it’s important that it fits perfectly, and there’s no space to allow cold air in. Make sure to scrape off any burr comb from the top of the medium super, so that the lid is in contact with the top of the box all the way around. Make sure the hives are secured against strong winds, strap them down.
Before you remove the honey from your Flow super, it’s super important that you get the bees out of there. If you don’t, you’re endangering the bees, as they will die defending the honey from intruders once you remove it from the hive.
Use a fume board and some bee repellent to clear the bees out. These are available from suppliers. A fume board is a lid with a cottony surface on the interior. Spray some repellent on the cotton surface, remove the lid from your super and replace it with the fume board. The bees will want to get away from the fumes of the repellent, and will retreat to the brood box. After about 20 minutes, your super should be free from bees and ready for removal. When you lift off the super, keep the fume board on so that the bees don’t try to follow you.
You’ve got two choices when deciding on how to clean out the super: harvest the honey or let the bees do the cleaning for you. Unless you’ve got a lot of capped honey in the super, it’s probably best to let the bees have it. You don’t want to harvest uncapped honey from your super, as this will have a high water content and will likely ferment. The super may contain a mix of capped and uncapped honey. In this case, you can let the bees clean the uncapped honey before you harvest the capped stuff.
Set up a feeding or “robbing” station, which should be situated well away from your hives. Take the honey super and leave it out in the open, raised a meter or so above the ground. Make sure the bottom of the super is open, so that bees don’t get trapped. Remove the round caps from the bottom of the frames and make sure the frames are in the closed position. When the super is left out like this, bees will find it and eat away the remaining honey. These may be your own bees, possibly from multiple hives, or other bees in the area. This is why it’s vital to have removed the bees from the super before bringing it to the robbing station. Otherwise, they will sacrifice themselves in defence of the honey when you leave it out.
Note: Robbing stations can be controversial, in this video I explain why I think it’s a good idea. (Important: you need to check with your local governing body to make sure that this practice is suitable for your area.)
If there is a lot of honey in the super you want to clean, you may want to harvest it. In this case, remove the super, open the Flow Frames and harvest as usual before you store them for the season.
Note: It’s a good idea to test honey for water content before doing so. To do this, you can use a device called a refractometer. If the honey is less than 20% water, it’s good to go. If the water content is too high, the honey will likely ferment.
So that's how I prepare my hives for the winter. For more information, check out my video on the subject.
Frederick Dunn resides in the northeastern United States where he documents honeybee behavior and examines/reviews products related to beekeeping.
Residing on a dirt road in farm country, he manages 15 colonies of survivor honeybee stock in a variety of hive configurations which he continually evaluates.
Mr. Dunn has been observing and photographing honeybees since 2006 and obtained his first beehives in 2007. He frequently gives educational presentations about bees and also teaches through his YouTube Channel.
His cinematic works have been included in bee-related presentations, including the Animal Planet series - Nature's Strangest Mysteries Solved, Episode 26 which aired in 2019.