Preparing Honeybee Hives for Winter

Reader Contribution by Julia Miller
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Each winter since keeping bees at Five Feline Farm, we have experienced some winter loss. So every year we work toward improving the chance all hives will winter over by implementing change in our practice.

It is a process to incorporate learning from others and finding what works best for us. Most are minor tweaks; hopefully just enough to make a difference.

Start in Summer

Really? Start planning for winter in June and July?


It is crucial for the bees to store enough honey for their own needs. This year we moved our honey harvest to a month earlier. We put supers on the hives in early June, putting harvest in July and August. The last few years we had waited until July to place the supers, then found ourselves harvesting in late September. In our climate, this was not working and our bees did not have enough honey and pollen stored in the brood boxes. The bees need some of the last nectar flows to make honey for themselves. 

Early Fall Preparations

Even though Goldenrod makes a prized and distinctively flavored honey (see my Weed to Wonderful post), all of our honey supers have been removed before this late plentiful bloom. The bees do not have supers available for storage, so are packing in nectar and pollen for their own reserves.

Leaving the Goldenrod is commensurate with our philosophy of using as many natural resources as possible. If the bees can collect a natural source of food and pollen it will surely be better for them. That said, we did provide a concentrated syrup feed for about one week to give an extra boost. This brief fall feeding is double the strength of what we feed in the spring to a new hive. Given the short time frame before the bees may need to cluster, the sugar syrup will have a lower water content and easier for the bees to dehydrate in the cells. 

After the syrup feeding, we added a round of brood builder patties to each hive. Brood builder patties are a thick gooey patty loaded with protein.

The last step in October was installing mouse guards. Mice seek out warmth and shelter and a beehive is an inviting location. Honeybees can defend the hive from intruders when they are active; however as the bees cluster and move up in the hive, they do not have the ability to guard the entrance. After disappointment with previous styles of mouse guards we are tying a metal guard with small holes for the bees to exit. 

Final Steps in Late Fall

In November, we are adding candy boards with an upper entrance to replace the inner covers. Another option for some ventilation at the top is small quarter inch pieces of wood inserted between the inner cover and outer cover. Both reduce condensation in the hive that may drip back on the cluster chilling them.

We will also be using a hive wrap to add a small protective barrier. This will be added when the days are consistently around freezing. Last year we tried straw bales stacked about six inches away from the hives to provide some insulation. Even though there was an air space between the hives and the bales, too much moisture stayed close.

You may have noticed that we are adding candy boards early this year instead of waiting for the January thaw. Some of our die off appears to have been starvation, so we aren’t taking any chances this year and plan to keep candy boards on throughout the winter.

Here’s hoping for a good winter and some early honey production in 2016.

Julia Miller also blogs about life on a hobby farm at Five Feline Farm. There is always something going on at the Farm. 

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