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LESSON 14: Wintering the Hive

The honey bee colony has a remarkable capacity to adapt itself to great extremes in climate conditions when allowed to develop freely with ample stores of honey and pollen.

As a beekeeper, there are some steps you can take to help ensure that your bees will survive the winter. Before the winter hits, your colony must be strong in numbers and have enough honey stores to last the winter. The hive will also need upward ventilation, easy communication from comb to comb, access to water, and all the hive entrances must be sheltered from piercing winds.

Fall Conditions at Close of Brood Rearing

entrace-reducerBrood rearing tapers off in the fall after October, and begins again in late winter, normally in February.  It can vary depending on the type of bee and conditions. Here is a list of things that should happen at the end of the brood rearing in fall before winter hits:

  • The queen bee will stop laying eggs but should still be productive.
  • Bees are covering 15 to 20 combs.
  • 35-50 lbs. of honey, 15 lbs. or more in lower chamber.
  • Adequate pollen stores.
  • Reduce lower entrances, and put a one inch sugar hole in top chamber.
  • Protection from the wind.
  • Maximum exposure to the sun.
  • Good air drainage.

Smaller Colonies

Small colonies require a larger proportion of their bees to care for the brood. Weaker colonies require less honey to survive than strong colonies, but use more honey for the number of bees present. A small cluster is unable to maintain brood rearing temperatures over a sufficient area to rear young bees that are necessary for replacing worn out bees, or those lost to cold temperatures or disease. Winter any small colonies over larger ones and separate them with a screen-- and auger holes in it for an entrance

Why Bees Die in the Winter

  • Starvation
  • Weak Colonies
  • Inadequate supplies of Pollen
  • Nosema Disease
  • Queenless

Nosema disease and winter dysentery can claim substantial losses among the colony during the winter, especially in very cold climates where bees are confined to the hive for months at a time. When a bee cannot leave the hive because outside conditions are too harsh, the bees are forced to discharge feces within the hive (Normally bees will discharge feces when out on a flight). Causes of dysentery include bad food and feces in the hive. Certain honey varieties are not good wintering food for the bees including mint honey, unripe honey or fermented honey, and honey with excess moisture.

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