Beekeeping – Hive Preparation For Winter

In areas where winters are severe, and breeding bees is suspended for several months, care should be taken that brood rearing is rather active during the late summer. This will insure that the colony can enter into winter with plenty of young healthy bees. In case any queens show lack of vitality they should be replaced early, so that the bees will not become queen less during the winter.

An important considerations when wintering bees are that there are plenty of young healthy bees, a good queen, plenty of stores of good quality sound hives, and proper protection from the cold and dampness of winter.

If cold weather approaches, and the bees do not have stores, they must be fed. Every colony should have from 25 to 40 pounds, depending on the length of winter, and the methods the beekeeper uses for wintering his hives. It’s better to have too much honey than not enough, for what is left is good next season. If feeding is practiced, honey may be used, but syrup made of granulated sugar is perfectly safe. If honey is purchased for feeding, great care should be taken that it comes from a healthy apiary, otherwise the apiary may be ruined by disease. Never feed honey bought on the open marketplace. The bees should be provided with stores early enough so that it will not be necessary to feed or to open the colonies after cold weather comes on. Honeydew honey should not be left in the hives, as it produces “dysentery.” Some honeys are also not ideal for winter stores. Those which show a high percentage of gums (most tree honeys) are not so desirable, but will usually cause no trouble.

In wintering out of doors the amount of protection depends on the severity of the winter. In the South no packing is necessary, and even in very cold climates good colonies with plenty of stores can often pass the winter with little protection, but packing and protection make it necessary for the bees to generate less heat, and consequently they consume less stores and their vitality is not reduced° Dampness is probably harder for bees to withstand than cold, and when it is considered that bees give off considerable moisture, precautions should be taken that as it condenses it does not get on the cluster. An opening at the top would allow the moisture to pass out, but it would also waste heat, so it is better to put a mat of burlap or other absorbent material on top of the frames. The hive may also be packed in chaff, leaves, or other similar dry material to diminish the loss of heat. Some hives are made with double walls, the space being filled with chaff; these are good for outdoor wintering. The hive entrance should be lower than any other part of the hive, so that any condensed moisture may run out. The hives should be sound and the covers tight and waterproof.

Entrances should be contracted in cold weather not only to keep out cold wind, but to prevent mice from entering. There should always be enough room, however, for bees to pass in and out if warmer weather permits a flight.

In the hands of experienced bee keepers cellar wintering is very successful, but this method requires careful study. The cellar must be dry and so protected that the temperature never varies more than from 40 to 45° F.; 43° F. seems to be the optimum temperature. The ventilation must be good or the bees become fretful. Light should not be admitted to the cellar, and consequently some means of indirect ventilation is necessary.

Cellar wintering requires the consumption of less honey to maintain the proper temperature in the cluster and is therefore economical. Bees so wintered do not have an opportunity for a cleansing flight, often for several months, but the low consumption makes this less necessary. Some bee keepers advocate carrying the colonies out a few times on warm days, but it is not fully established whether this is entirely beneficial and it is usually not practiced.

The time for putting colonies in the cellar is a point of dispute, and practice in this regard varies considerably. They should certainly be put in before the weather becomes severe and as soon as they have ceased brood rearing. The time chosen may be at night when they are all in the hive, or on some chilly day.

The hives may be piled one on top of the other, the lower tier raised a little from the floor. The entrances should not be contracted unless the colony is comparatively weak. It is usually not considered good policy to close the entrances with ordinary wire cloth, as the dead bees which accumulate more or less on the bottom boards may cut off ventilation, and the entrance should be free so that these may be cleaned out.

It is, however, good policy to cover the entrance with wire cloth having three meshes to the inch to keep out mice.

The time of removing bees from the cellar is less easily determined than that of putting them in. The colonies may be removed early and wrapped in black tar paper or left unfit the weather is settled. If the weather is very warm and the bees become fretful, the cellar must either be cooled or the bees removed. Some bee keepers prefer to remove bees at night, so that they can recover from the excitement and fly from the hive normally in the morning. One of the chief difficulties is to prevent the bees from getting into the wrong hives after their first flights. They often “drift” badly with the wind, and sometimes an outside row will become abnormally strong, leaving other colonies weak.

The night before the bees are removed from the cellar it is good practice to leave the cellar doors and windows wide open.