Winter Beekeeping by Master Beekeeper, Charlotte Anderson
If you live in a region with cold temperatures, Winter will be a time of less work for you and your bees. Yes, you will have some beekeeping related activities. But you can enjoy a break from bi-weekly hive inspections, honey harvesting and chasing bee swarms.
Honey bees are cold-blooded insects. As the weather turns cold, they will not be able to fly outside. Instead, the honey bees will cluster together and survive on stored honey. This does not mean that the beekeeper has nothing to do! It is time for you to prepare for Spring.
Honeybee colonies have a miraculous plan of Winter survival. They cluster together, eating honey stored from the previous Summer. The clustered bees actually generate heat by shivering their wing muscles. They do not heat the whole interior of the hive, just the bee cluster itself.
Safe inside the cluster of bees, you will find the queen bee. She normally takes a short break from egg laying. But, once the days begin to lengthen, your queen bee will start to lay eggs for Spring bees. A healthy colony of honeybees with sufficient food stores can survive Winter. The beekeeper has little to do inside the hive.
However, a beehive that is not filled with healthy bees and plenty of food stores is at risk of death. This is why it is important to make sure that your colonies are healthy before cold arrives. Varroa mite treatments (if needed) should be completed months before Winter arrives.
Periodic checks – just a quick peek – inside the top of the hive will verify that your bees still have food.
When you find a colony that does not have an ample supply of honey, it is time for emergency winter feeding. This can be accomplished by laying pieces of fondant directly on the top bars of the hive. If you do not have fondant on hand, you can use the dry sugar method.
Lay a single sheet of newspaper on the top bars, dampen the newspaper with a mist of water. Pour dry cane sugar on the newspaper and mist the top of the sugar mound. The bees will remove some of the sugar and some will fall through to the ground. But this emergency feeding method can be a lifesaver for a hungry honey bee colony.
Monitor the status of colony food stores throughout Winter and into early Spring.
And, ensure that the hive entrances do not become blocked with snow. No time to rest, the beekeeper has other chores to attend to during the cold months.
This is a great time to repair equipment.
Repair broken frames and other pieces of beekeeping equipment. Good frames containing old dark comb should be filled with new foundation. Repaint empty hive boxes in preparation for Spring. This is also a good time to order new equipment if you expect to grow your hive numbers.
As we wait for Spring, Winter beekeeping involves time for learning.
Check out new beekeeping books or ones that you have not read. Attend beekeeping meetings that are near you to learn and get new ideas. Take a beekeeping class (my online beekeeping classes have helped many beekeepers).
Beekeepers who continue to learn will be the most successful with their colonies. Education is key in the world of beekeeping.
Master Beekeeper, Charlotte Anderson shares her love of all things honey bee. She helps others become better beekeepers and teaches new beekeepers how to get started. Her mission is spreading awareness of the importance of honey bees and the value they add to our lives. She is a former Beekeeper of the Year in South Carolina.