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Cold Bees
Oct 4, 2022

Keep Your Bees Cozy this Winter

Taking the proper steps to winterize your hives is a vital part of protecting your colonies during the cold months. Winter preparations begin at summer’s end for beekeepers. The goal is to support what the bees are already doing, keeping in mind that interfering too much can be counterproductive.

Winter Hive Configuration

As daily temperatures fall to 57°F and below, bees will cluster together to conserve heat. The goal is to sustain life and keep the queen and any brood warm. Winterizing your bees in the smallest space possible will prevent heat dispersion, keeping the bees from expending unnecessary energy warming their cluster. This will also limit the space available to mice and other small critters looking for a warm place to crash.

Remove your queen excluders. If excluders are left in the hive, you run the risk of the queen being left behind as the cluster moves up in the honey stores. This will kill your queen (and your colony).

If you have two colonies that are too small or weak, consider combining them. Winterizing one hive is better than losing both! You can also combine a weaker colony with a strong one, just be sure that the stronger colony has enough food stores to support the merge.

Moisture Control

Condensation is a bee killer. This is a bigger problem in some regions than others. If you live in an area with moist winters take extra steps to prevent moisture build and properly insulate your hives.

Condensation forms when excess moisture from the warm cluster rises and condenses into water droplets on the inner cover. When temperatures are above freezing, cold water rains back down on the cluster. Cold, wet bees are dead bees.

Consider adding a box between the inner and outer covers (honey supers work fine). Add insulating material like burlap, hay, or wood shavings to the box often called a “hive quilt” can help retain heat and absorb moisture.

Insulate Your Hives

There are countless different materials you can use to insulate your hive. You can be creative with this process and find the perfect solution for your climate and situation. The top and bottom of the beehive can be insulated, as well as the sides. Popular methods used by beekeepers include using insulation wraps or insulated covers on their beehives.

Make sure that the entrance to the hive is opened all winter to allow the bees to come and go. During the winter the bees may need to leave the hive on warmer days to gather water, or to go on a cleansing flight. After heavy snowfalls, check your hive entrance to make sure it is not blocked.

Securing Your Hives

It’s always a good idea to tie down your hives with rope or ratchet straps, or to place heavy bricks on top. Hives are unlikely to survive getting knocked over in the middle of winter, so taking steps to secure them is vital.

If you are in a particularly windy location, a wind buffer will go a long way for temperature regulation and preventing the hives from being knocked over. Stacked hay bales make an excellent temporary wall.

Beekeepers in harsh climates may move their hives into a shed or garage for the winter. If you go this route, make sure to move them after foraging is done for the season, so that foragers don’t get stuck at their original location. Placing the hives in three-sided structures can provide extra shelter without the need to move them back and forth.
Limit Hive Inspections

If the weather has been particularly harsh, it is ok to take advantage of a moderate day to peek inside your hives. Check for activity and see if your bees need any more food to hold them through the winter. You can use traditional candy boards, fondant, plain sugar, or sugar bricks. These do not take the place of proper feeding that should take place earlier but can serve as insurance to avoid starvation.