15 Best Beekeeping Tips for Wintering Bees

how to winter bees

Bees, it might surprise you to know, can adapt well to living in a cold climate. How they do, it is quite fascinating.

They start by gathering together in a huddle, with the younger bees at the center of the huddle. The “inner circle” is more loosely packed together, while the outer layer of older bees is tightly packed together. 

This huddle can be tightened if temperatures drop further and loosened if temperatures increase. The outer layer of bees effectively shivers and so generate heat. While doing this, they also respire and produce carbon dioxide. 

The carbon dioxide levels lower the metabolic rates of the bees. The respiration increases the humidity within the hive. 

The next question is that if they are so good at regulating temperature, why do they need our help during winter?  

Why Do You Need Prepare Bees For Winter?

In a natural setting, bees do not need any help. In a natural setting, they would build their hives in a tree trunk. The trunk would provide all of the insulation that they might require. A hive is not a natural setting and hives are typically not well insulated. 

Derek Mitchell’s groundbreaking research found that the typical wooden hive may lose as much as four to seven times more heat than a natural tree trunk in winter. 

After all, you need to maintain adequate ventilation for your hive during summer, and this makes it harder to keep the hive insulated.

Add in the fact that you have harvested a lot of the bee’s honey and there is a much higher likelihood of bees getting sick, getting too cold or possibly starving to death. 

Our Tips For Wintering Bees

You might now be wondering how to keep bees alive in winter. We have collected together the best beekeeping tips for wintering bees. The best way to winter bees can differ depending on your local conditions, so it is also a good idea to check with other local beekeepers and see what they do.

If you’re wanting to learn how to become a beekeeper (and that includes if you want to start urban beekeeping), then make sure you pay attention to these wintering tips to keep your bees healthy and alive!

Shift the Hives   

In winter, the hives should be moved so that they are in the sun for as much of the day as possible. This is the first step in maintaining a good temperature inside. 

Protect Your Hives from Wind and Flooding

It is not just the general temperature that you have to worry about but also the wind chill factor. A hive with no protection from the icy wind will drop a few degrees in temperature. 

Another issue is that winter winds tend to be stronger and might upend the hives. When choosing your new winter location for your hives, it is best to look for one this is well protected from the wind. Up against a fence, for example. 

Do make sure that you put them in an area that will not flood, or raise them above the flood level. 

Ventilation is Important

Ventilation of the hive is also important – air must still be able to flow through the hive so that excessive moisture is removed before it actually condenses. If the moisture condenses, your bees will eventually die of exposure. 

A good way to do this is to open the hive’s roof just a little and to put something in place, so it stays open. It does not have to be open a lot – you want just enough of an opening to allow for air circulation without dropping the temperature too much.

Get the Door Closed

The bees are not going to be needing to come and go in great numbers, so you can decrease the size of the opening to cut out more of the cold. You don’t want to block it off completely – your bees should be able to get out if they need to. 

Decrease Your Hive’s Size

In summer, you build up the hive body to enable your bees to build more honeycomb. When you have harvested that honeycomb and winter is coming, you might try removing some of the hive bodies. This creates a smaller space for the bees to keep warm. 

Install Beehive Insulation For Winter

Whether you need to put on a beehive winter wrap will depend on how cold your winters are. If you get little or no snowfall, this step is likely to be unnecessary.

Wraps can be a useful part of your beehive winter protection strategy if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow. The key with these covers is to make sure that they are securely fastened so that they will not blow off in a heavy wind.

Insulation should also be installed underneath the hive’s floor to prevent cold seeping up from the ground. 

Bees May Need Food

If you are concerned about the bees not having enough food, you can provide them with fondant, honey, a strong sugar solution or grease patties. 

Remove Queen Excluders

If you use a queen excluder, now would be the time to remove it. This allows the queen to huddle up with the rest of her subjects and stay warm. 

Don’t Fuss With Them

It is one of the worst rookie mistakes to make – checking on the bees frequently in winter to make sure they are okay. Every time you lift that lid, you are canceling out all the bees’ hard work to stay warm.

Once you have set them up for the winter, leave them alone. The exception is when you have a warm day. If this happens, take the opportunity to check the hive and see whether or not they have food.

What To Do With Bee Hives After Winter?

Once you are certain that winter is over, and the first spring flowers are blooming, you can now properly inspect your hive, as you normally would. Check that the bees are still alive. Remove any dead bees and check on the health of the queen. 

If a lot of the bees have died, it is a good idea to help support the colony by leaving the bottom insulation in place until spring is in full swing. 

Check on how much food the colony still has and where it is in relation to the cluster of bees. If necessary, move the honeycomb nearer to the cluster. If no honey is left, you will need to feed your bees. 

Your bees will soon start to multiply and produce honey again once the winter is over. Winterizing your hives helps your bees to get the best possible chance of surviving the cold winter and so is worth doing. 


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