A common concern among new and novice beekeepers is whether or not their bee colony will survive the winter, particularly if they live in an area of the country that is prone to low temperatures. It is natural to worry about the survival of your bees, but the good news is that there are steps you can take to help them make it safely through the coldest periods of the winter.
Keeping Your Bees Safe in the Winter
Most people assume it is freezing temperatures that is the biggest weather threat to the honeybee, but wind is actually much more harmful. Many bees die because of windchill, so it is important that you locate your hive in a sheltered area to help prevent this from happening.
Honeybees are adept at keeping themselves warm during the winter and they do this by forming a cluster around the queen and the brood. This protects the queen and helps to generate warmth for the colony. When external temperatures fluctuate, the cluster will expand or contract to keep the temperature of the hive comfortable.
The worker bees are typically on the outside of the cluster and once the temperature starts to fall in the winter, they will begin the task of generating heat by flexing their flight muscles. The vibration caused by this flexing helps to raise the temperature of each bee, which in turn creates warmth for the entire cluster. When there are enough bees in the colony, the temperature in the hive is cozy enough to withstand extremely low external temperatures.
However, with a new colony (less than a year old), the numbers of bees may not be high enough, which can result in the death of the entire colony – unless steps are taken to prevent this from happening.
As mentioned already, ensuring the hive is well sheltered from the wind will help. If there is no shelter where the hive is currently located, you should move it to a more suitable place. While it is not advisable to keep hives in direct sunlight during the spring and summer months, placing it in a location that will get the most sun is ideal during the winter. This will increase the bee’s chances of staying warm and, hence, surviving. Having a windbreak is also something to consider, such as a tree line or a fence.
If you live in an area that is prone to freezing temperatures and snow, a hive cover might be a worthwhile investment. These can be purchased online and are a terrific way to insulate the hive during the winter. It is important that they are secured to the hive though so that they do not come loose in the event of a storm. Check out a selection of beehive covers at Amazon by clicking here (opens in a new tab).
Another big killer of bees is moisture, so be sure to ventilate the hive. The best way to do this is to move the roof of the hive slightly so that air can get in.
Should You Feed Your Hive
Bees can eat a lot of honey over the winter but if your colony is new, the bees may not have produced enough during the first season to survive during the long cold months, particularly if you have taken honey from the hive (which is a mistake many new beekeepers make in the first year).
If your hive is well established and you have experience in keeping bees, it is unlikely that you will need to feed your bees. Nevertheless, if your hive is new, it is advisable to ensure they have enough to eat over the winter.
As bees cannot make honey during the winter because it is too cold for them to leave the hive or because there is a limited nectar flow, it is important that they have enough to eat. Before winter sets in, you can add comb or sugar syrup to the hive. Other options include fondant and grease patties, which can be purchased online. Some beekeepers will provide a combination of food sources to ensure the bees have enough to eat.
Checking on Your Hive
It is important to leave your bees alone during the winter, so try not to disturb them. Nonetheless, on the first mild, dry day, it may be worthwhile having a quick check inside the hive to ensure the bees have enough food. If you see that the food is running low, you can add some more.