Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a warm area with year-round forage, most beekeepers pack down their hives in winter to ensure their colonies will be kept warm and have enough honey stores to last the season. If you’re just getting started, winter is a great time to look ahead and start planning!
Your overwintering set-up will be specific to the needs of your colony in your climate – it’s best to consult with local beekeepers to learn the best over-wintering practices for your region. Some of the steps you may need to take are:
As with all beekeeping advice, local knowledge is crucial. The extent of your winter preparations will naturally depend on the length and severity of winter in your area.
If you haven’t already done so, contact your local beekeeping club to exchange information and ideas on overwintering practices in your area.
Feeding your bees: Super on or off?
Many beekeepers will reduce the size of their hives during winter, removing excess boxes. The smaller the size of the hive, the easier for the bees to keep it warm.
However, this consideration needs to be balanced with making sure the bees have enough food to last the spring. If your Flow Super has a lot of honey in it, leave it on for the bees. If not, remove it for the winter – perhaps you’ve got an extra brood box of honey stores, or plan to feed your bees through the winter.
The bees will form a cluster during winter, and will gradually move up the hive consuming the honey stores. It is vital that you remove the queen excluder so your queen does not get stranded from the rest of the colony.
The queen will not be laying eggs at this time, so it’s not a problem for her to get into the honey super during winter.
If you need, you can add insulation to the top cover using wood shavings or polystyrene. The outside of your hive should be sealed and waterproof. Depending on the severity of your climate, you can consider wrapping the hives for extra insulation. Consult with local beekeepers to get suggestions and ideas for your area.
The hive should have ventilation, but not a draught. Entrance reducers can help to prevent draughts and your hive becoming a rodent hotel.
It’s best to avoid any hive or brood inspections when the weather is cold. The bees will maintain a brood temperature of 94 to 97°F (34-36°C). It is dangerous to expose them to low temperatures by opening up the hive, so keep it closed.
It’s possible to figure out what part of the hive the bees are in by listening closely. The nearer they are to the top, the less stores they have left – so this can be a way of knowing whether, and when you need to feed them.