Checking Bee Colony Survival in Winter: A Simple Guide

how to tell if your bees are alive in winter

One of the biggest worries facing you if you are a newbie beekeeper, particularly in the first year, is how to tell if your bees are alive in winter. This is a legitimate concern. Indeed, it is something that is quite common, especially if the colony is not strong enough to survive extreme fluctuations in temperature. As a newbie then, a question you might be asking yourself about now is, ‘how do I know if my bees are alive in winter?’ Fortunately, there are ways and means of doing this.

Getting Your Bees Ready for Winter

Preparing your bees for winter is an essential task for any beekeeper. During the colder months bees rely on stored honey for their survival, and any mistake in preparation can lead to colony collapse. It is therefore crucial to ensure that the bees have enough food, shelter, and ventilation before winter arrives.

The first step in getting your bees ready for winter is to assess the hive’s location. If the hive is situated in an exposed area, it is essential to move it to a more sheltered spot. A location that receives some sunlight but is also protected from the wind and elements is ideal. Placing the hive along a tree line or behind a fence can provide an additional layer of protection. As well as this, ensure that the hive’s entrance is facing away from the prevailing wind.

Investing in a hive cover is another crucial step in preparing the bees for winter. A good quality cover can protect the hive from snow and rain, which can penetrate the hive and cause dampness. Dampness can lead to mold and fungus growth, which can weaken the bees and cause colony collapse.

One of the most critical factors in getting your bees ready for winter is ensuring that they have enough food. Bees require a minimum of 60 pounds of honey to survive a winter, so ensure that they have enough stores to last them through the colder months. If you are unsure about the amount of honey in the hive, you can perform a quick inspection by lifting the hive’s back end and weighing it. If it feels light then this is an indication that the bees require more food. It is important to add food before the temperature drops below freezing as it becomes challenging for the bees to move around and feed once the temperature drops.

Something else to consider is ventilation. Good ventilation is essential in preventing moisture build up in the hive, which can be fatal to the bees. Ensure that the hive has enough ventilation by adding ventilation holes or ensuring that the existing ones are not blocked by debris. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that the hive’s bottom board is free of debris, allowing air to circulate.

Are Your Bees Still Alive?

Once you have done all the preparations for the winter, you should leave it be and try not to disturb it. Nevertheless, this could leave you fretting for months on end about whether the colony is still alive (or if it is struggling and whether there is anything you can do to save it).

While it is best not to open the hive during the winter, you can do a check by walking past to see if all seems in order. For example, in strong winds the hive could have moved, trees around might have fallen down, or it could have been disturbed by animals looking for food. It is good practice to at least check that it is where it should be at least once a week.

You should expect to see some dead bees on the landing board outside the entrance of the hive. This is natural and means that the bees inside are keeping the hive clean and getting rid of their dead. Sometimes, the dead bees will be left behind the reducer. If this is the case, you can remove them by removing the reducer and sweeping them out.

honeybees

It is important to look for signs of disease, especially if you see a lot of dead bees on the landing board. If you notice bees with their head missing or with deformed wings, you should sift through the bees to check for other insects. Bees with deformed wings could indicate that there has been a Varroa mite problem. If you see other insects, then the hive may have been infested. If the heads are missing, a vole could be inside the hive.

If you do not see any dead bees on the landing board, place an ear against the box to check for the gentle humming sound that bees make. If you are unsure of whether you can hear this humming, give the box a soft tap and you should hear it.

Checking Inside the Hive

Checking inside the hive is pretty important as it will let you assess the health and productivity of your hive. It is important to choose the right time to check it though as the temperature and weather conditions can affect the behavior of the bees.

Ideally, choose a mild day with no rain or strong winds. Bees are more active and less defensive on warmer, brighter days, making it easier and safer to check the hive.

To check the amount of food your bees have, you can take a quick peek at the top of the frames. Avoid removing frames entirely if the temperature is below 60F as this can damage any developing pupae. If you notice that your bees are running low on food, add some comb, sugar syrup, or grease patties. Adding these supplements can help boost the health and productivity of your hive.

While inside the hive, inspect the frames for signs of disease, pests, or other issues. Check for any signs of varroa mites, which are common pests that can weaken and kill bees. If you notice any issues, take action immediately to address the problem before it becomes more severe.

How to Tell if Your Bees Are Alive in Winter – Conclusion

To conclude, ensuring that your bees are prepared for winter is crucial for their survival. This involves assessing the hive’s location, investing in a good quality hive cover, ensuring they have enough food, and providing adequate ventilation. Checking for signs of life during the winter involves observing the landing board for dead bees, listening for the gentle humming sound that bees make, and performing a quick inspection to check for disease or other issues. Peeking inside the hive is also essential for assessing the health and productivity of the hive. Choosing the right time to check and being aware of the weather conditions can help ensure a successful inspection. By taking the necessary steps to prepare and monitor your bees, you can increase their chances of survival during the colder months.

Beekeeping Disclaimer:

Beekeeping, like any agricultural activity, involves inherent risks. It is important to understand these risks and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.

Potential risks associated with beekeeping include:

  1. Bee stings: Honey bees are generally not aggressive but can become defensive if they feel threatened or their hive is disturbed. Bee stings can cause allergic reactions or even anaphylaxis in some individuals, which can be life-threatening. It is important to wear protective clothing and follow best practices when handling bees to minimize the risk of stings.
  2. Diseases and pests: Bees can be vulnerable to various diseases and pests, including mites, viruses, and bacterial infections. These can have significant impacts on bee colonies, leading to reduced honey production or even colony collapse. It is important to monitor hives regularly and take appropriate measures to prevent and treat diseases and pests.
  3. Weather conditions: Extreme weather conditions, such as drought or cold temperatures, can affect the health and productivity of bee colonies. It is important to ensure that hives are appropriately sheltered and provided with adequate food and water.
  4. Environmental hazards: Bees can be affected by environmental hazards such as pesticide exposure, pollution, and habitat loss. It is important to be aware of these hazards and take appropriate measures to protect bee colonies and promote healthy environments for bees.
  5. Legal requirements: Beekeeping may be subject to local, state, or national regulations, such as registration or inspection requirements. It is important to be aware of these requirements and comply with them.

While beekeeping can be a rewarding and enjoyable activity, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and take appropriate measures to mitigate them. By following best practices and staying informed about the latest developments in beekeeping, beekeepers can help ensure the health and productivity of their hives and contribute to the well-being of bee populations worldwide.

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