Getting the Bees Ready for Winter

bees fall farm honey winter

As the weather cools off and we transition from summer, the bees are getting ready for winter.  This is how we get them ready.

Remove the Supers

Beehives at the end of summer

Beehives are essentially boxes stacked on top of each other.  During the peak season, we had supers (boxes) to the hive.  The bees fill them with honey, and this is the stuff we harvest.

After, the last honey harvest, we remove the supers for the season.  Now, we want the girls to devote all their energy into making honey for themselves, to feed them throughout the winter.

We closely monitor their progress during the fall and will supplement them with sugar water if they need some extra help.

Bee Population Declines 

As the days get shorter, the bee population declines in each hive.

During the spring and summer, an average colony can have 50,000 - 60,000 worker bees and the queen can lay 1500 eggs per day.

The colony can't sustain that many bees over the winter.  They need enough bees to stay warm, but too many will deplete their food stores (honey) before spring. 

So the queen reduces her laying and the bee population gradually declines through the fall months.

Food for Winter

Sugar water in a feeder provides the bees a supplemental food source

Having enough food for winter is absolutely critical for the bees survival. 

First, the last honey crop was harvested at the beginning of August.  Since then, all the honey that the bees made is for their winter supply.

We also provide the bees with sugar water (see photos) that they collect like flower nectar and convert to honey.  They're nuts about it!

If the bees run low on food later (think February - March), we can provide them with some emergency food.  But we'd rather that they have good supplies going into the season. 

Varroa Mites

Varroa Mites are nasty little parasites that really harm honey bees.  They attach to the bees and weaken their immune system.  If left unmanaged, they can weaken a hive so much that the hive doesn't survive. 

As a beekeeper, monitoring and managing varroa mites is simply the right thing to do.  I treat for mites in the spring and fall, but monitor year round.

It's important that treatments are used responsibly.  As a beekeeper,  I always...

-Make sure treatments are necessary. 

-Follow label directions.  This protects the bees and your honey!

-Mix up types of treatments.  This prevents the mites from developing resistance to the treatment. 

-Choose the right treatments for the right time.  Treatments have different ingredients that work best at different times of year and different stages.

Mites cannot be completely eliminated, but keeping their population levels low helps keep the hive healthy.

Mouse  Guards

Mouse Guards, with small holes, let bees come and go, but keep mice out.

Did you know that the bees regulate the hive temperature to a balmy 92° year round?

That's right, even in the winter.  The bees stay nice and warm.  Unfortunately, mice also look for nice warm places to spend the winter.

So, a mouse will crawl into a beehive and build a nest.  It's not harmful to the bees, but it creates a terrible mess.

So when it starts getting cool in the fall, we install mouse guards at the hive entrance.  The holes are big enough to let the bees in and out, but too small for a mouse. 

Major problem, prevented by a simple fix.

Providing appropriate care and good management for my bees is simply the right thing to do.   It doesn't eliminate all problems, but it goes a long way.

Let me know what questions you have!

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