Can My Bees Make it Through Winter? The Beekeeper’s Dilemma

beehives in the snow

As with any livestock, bee colonies require careful management to ensure their survival, particularly during the harsh winter months. In colder climates, beekeepers must take extra precautions to prepare their hives for the winter, including providing sufficient food stores and protecting the bees from the elements. While every winter presents its own unique challenges, there are steps that beekeepers can take to help ensure the survival of their colonies. In this article I will discuss some of the common issues that beekeepers face during the winter and offer tips and strategies for hopefully keeping your bees healthy and thriving through the colder months.

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 hiveOpens in a new tab. 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. 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 warm enough to withstand extremely low external temperatures.

Nevertheless, when it comes to a new colony (less than a year old), the numbers of bees may not be sufficient enough. This can result in the death of the entire colony – unless steps are taken to prevent this from happening.

honeybee in flight

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. They are a terrific way to insulate the hive during the winter. It is important that these 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 hereOpens in a new tab. (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 lift the roof of the hive ever so 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 – this 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 the 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 syrupOpens in a new tab. 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 eatOpens in a new tab..

Checking on Your Hive

It is important to leave your bees alone during the winterOpens in a new tab., so try not to disturb them. Even so, on the first mild, dry day, it may be worthwhile having a quick peek inside the hive to ensure the bees have enough food. If you see that the food is running low, you can add some more.

Will My Bees Survive this Winter – Conclusion

In conclusion, ensuring the survival of your bee colonies through the winter months is a crucial aspect of successful beekeeping. While there are many factors that can impact the health of your bees during the colder season, including colony size, adequate food storage, and pest management, implementing a few simple practices can greatly increase their chances of survival. As a beekeeper, it’s important to stay attentive to the needs of your bees throughout the year and make adjustments as necessary to ensure their well-being. With proper preparation and care, your bees can thrive and continue to provide you with the benefits of pollination and honey production for years to come.

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: Honeybees 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.


Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions. Read about him by clicking here.

Related Posts