Winter can be a stressful and deadly time for a hive. Beekeepers take steps to minimize losses by making sure their colonies are well-fed, strong, and disease free.
Honey bees are adapted to their climate and can survive the winter as long as they have enough food. But some colonies do inevitably die of starvation.
There are a few things beekeepers can do away from their hives that are important during the winter. These include preparing new frames, building more supers and cleaning equipment.
It is also time to check hive entrances for snow and anything else that might obstruct them from the bees. This is especially useful for colonies that have varroa mites as it can help prevent them from getting out of the hive.
Once the weather starts to get colder, the bees will begin to form a cluster inside their hive. This tightens and vibrates their thorax muscles to produce heat for the queen to keep her warm.
The summer months are busy for beekeepers, who work to provide their bees with food, water and protection from pests and diseases. They also check their hives regularly to ensure that the bees are healthy and producing enough honey.
During the late summer and early fall, colonies begin to rear winter bees that are physically different from summer bees. These bees have larger fat bodies that help them to survive cold weather and protect them from disease and predators.
These bees need to be kept healthy in order to ensure that they will survive through the winter. It is also important to keep mite counts low in this time of year so that they do not cause the colony to swarm prematurely.
At the beginning of September, beekeepers feed their bees sugar syrup to replace the honey that was removed earlier in the season. This will encourage the bees to consume more stored honey, which will give them the energy they need for the rest of the winter.
As the bloom season starts to wind down in the fall, beekeepers start to prepare their hives for the winter. This usually involves reducing the entrance size to prevent yellow jackets and other robbing and placing mouse guards in lower hive entrances.
Bees are able to store protein in their fat bodies through the summer and autumn, which they use to rear brood in the early months of winter. However, the lack of flower pollen means that bees need to find other sources of food in the fall and winter.
During these cold months, bees spend a lot of their time in their cluster. This is where they warm themselves using the muscles in their thorax and produce heat to keep them from freezing.
Sporadic warm days (above 55degF) encourage bees to fly and take cleansing flights, which are a great source of energy but quickly deplete their food stores. It also makes bees very tired, requiring them to rest in the cluster for longer periods of time.
Winter is a time to take a break, think and prepare for the coming spring. During this period, beekeepers can focus on making hive splits, cleaning equipment and doing other tasks they don’t have time to do in the spring.
Beekeepers must make sure the bees have enough honey in their hives to keep them warm during the cold weather. They also need to check the hive entrance regularly and brush off any dead bees or snow that might block it.
To get through a winter, bees need to have at least 30-60 pounds of honey stored in their hives (less the farther south they live). Be sure to inspect your hives in the fall to ensure you have enough stores.
If the fall inspection reveals that you don’t have enough honey, put in extra food for your bees before winter begins. This can be done in many ways, including a 2:1 sugar syrup, purchased or DIY candy boards, and winter patties.