Winter preparations: winter your hives with success

Probably the season that causes the most worry for beekeepers is the cold Winter time. Here are 5 simple things you can do to set your hives up for a successful winter.

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overwintering beehives
My first winter in Georgia. You’ll notice single and double deeps, each with a quilting box; which we’ll cover in Step 5. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The 5 Simple steps to Wintering success

Step One- Fall hive inspection

Find out when the first frost date is in your area. Make sure you do the following hive inspection before then.

When you look in your hive, this is what you want to keep in mind:

  1. Think to yourself, “This is an assessment to know whether this hive is ready for winter or not.
  2. Do they have a good laying queen with all stages of brood?
  3. Are all of their frames surrounding the brood nest full of capped honey stores?

Hopefully the answer to these questions are a resounding YES!

Step 2- Minimize entrances

Bees begin to cluster for colony warmth in the mid-50’s F/12C. When the nights get to these temperatures in your area, it’s time to close up your screened bottom boards.

entrance reducers for wintering beehives
During the first winter, I used simple wooden blocks to reduce the hive entrance, as you can see here. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

And if the days aren’t still bloody hot, then it’s okay to go ahead and install your entrance reducers too.

These components keep the cold winter drafts out and the colony heat in. They also keep any vermin and rodents from making a home where they don’t belong.

Step 3- Supplement with feed if needed

I’m not really a proponent for feeding beehives syrups that weren’t made in a beehive.

I will feed in an emergency however. But it is much better to play Robin Hood in such a case. If you have hives with more than enough food, then rob from the rich and give to the poor.

feeding beehives
Here I have 2 five pound glass jar in-hive feeders. I also mix in my treatment to prevent Nosema. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

This is a great way to even out and distribute the honey stores evenly throughout the apiary.

If you have any honey supers that you didn’t harvest, use it on top of a brood nest instead.

Step 4- Wrapping your hive

It may surprise you but honey bees don’t die of the cold until the temps get down to -20F/29C. It’s moisture that kills bees in the cold which we’ll cover more in Step 5.

Wrapping your hives only needs to happen if you’re in extremely cold climates.

For example, in the Southern Appalachians, our winters are considered to be mild. The lowest low I’ve experienced since living here was one day when it reached 0F. My bees were tucked in nice and warm without needing to wrap them.

So if you keep bees in Michigan or even Maine or Alaska, you probably need to do some winter wrapping. Keep in mind that humid winters are colder and your bees may need the extra protection.

Step 5- Use a quilting box

I recommend a quilting box anywhere that has four full seasons.

Even here in Georgia, every one of my beehives has a quilt box on top. A quilting box is a shallow box with a screened bottom.

The screen allows ventilation and it also holds a two or more inch layer of cedar wood shavings.

quilting box for beehives
Notice the cedar shavings piled in the quilting box. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

This allows the perspiration of the colony to rise through the chips, condensing on the top of them and wicking away rather than raining back down on the bees, killing them with hypothermia.

The chips double as an insulation, keeping a lot of warmth inside of the hive. This is the Number One recommendation for wintering beehives in my opinion, based on experience.

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These 5 simple steps will go a long way in securing your hives a successful winter and hopefully ease your mind knowing that you did your best to help.

If you want any clarification on any of the 5 steps, comment below. I’ll be happy to help.

And until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

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