How I Keep Bees Through the Winter
I am a beekeeper in Northern Ohio. I am not a commercial beekeeper, and I don't rent my hives for pollination. This means that during the winter, my job with my honey bees is to make sure they have honey for food, plan the next year, and have my supplies ready for the spring. Let's take this one step at a time.
Step-by-Step Beekeeping in the Winter
- Stock Honey for the Bees
- Hive Management
- Boxes, Frames, and Equipment Preparation
- Plan for Spring Consumables
- Hive Count
1. Stock Honey for the Bees
During the winter, the bees are not active and will consume their stores of honey. Going into the winter, I try to have at least 15 frames of honey per beehive, though my goal is closer to 19.
If the winter is long, then a beekeeper may need to feed the bees. Beekeepers will feed with a variety of foods while overwintering. Some beekeepers will freeze some of the honey frames, and if they need, they can change some frames when they get the chance. Others will use granulated sugar or some other sugar-based feed.
There are winter patties available that are made of pollen and other ingredients. In a regular winter, bees will go through 60–80 pounds of honey in my area, so leaving 15 frames of honey has always left me with reserves for the bees to overwinter.
If I had an issue with my bees running low on honey during the winter, I would look at a pollen patty or a winter patty, because the granular sugar recipes don't generally have everything the bees would normally be consuming. A lot of beekeepers depend too much on granulated sugar.
2. What Do Beekeepers Do? Hive Management
Hive management means determining how you will deal with issues with a beekeeper's honey bee hives. Will there be varroa mite treatments? If so, how often and what will the timetable be? If there have been problems with small hive beetles, what will the treatments be this season? If the beekeeper hasn't had any issues before, what measures will be taken if they do become a problem?
There are reports written on these individual topics, so we won't go into depth on this. But people do need to be aware of these problems and what there is to do about these issues.
3. Boxes, Frames, and Equipment Preparation
Winter for this beekeeper has very little to no bee activity. In the winter months, beekeepers are planning the upcoming year, building hives, frames, and any other wooden wares that will be needed. Some beekeepers will build their wares, and others will purchase them. I build almost everything except for the frames and foundations. For the time it takes to make them, I would prefer to just buy the frames with foundations.
It is a great idea to have a couple of extra beehives around. There could be a swarm that comes to the beekeeper's attention; a fellow beekeeper may need to split but might not want another hive; one of the beekeeper's hives may need to be split; something else may happen. There are plenty of other reasons why it can be helpful to have equipment ready to go.
Old foundations need to be cleaned and/or replaced because of cocoon buildup and age. Tightening boxes to keep them as weatherproof as possible or maybe replacing the boxes is a good idea as well.
4. Plan for Spring Consumables
The winter is time for beekeepers to figure out how much honey, sugar water, or other honey supplements they will need for the upcoming spring season. They may also need to make and/or purchase pollen patties for the season. When making plans for pollen patties, plan on several pounds per hive in early spring to help with brood production.
If using sugar water, then it is easy enough to make this as needed. All it takes is two parts sugar to one part water, with the use of additives as desired. Some beekeepers like to reserve honey to give back to the bees as needed.
5. Hive Count
One thing every beekeeper must do is decide how many hives they want. Do they want to grow a larger apiary, downsize the apiary, or just keep the apiary the same size? With these considerations being taken into account, the beekeeper knows if more hives will be needed or not. If staying the same or downsizing, there is an opportunity to make additional money from selling hives, nucs, splits, etc.
With these decisions, the beekeeper may need to find new space for another apiary or determine if the existing one can support the number of hives desired. The decision to expand isn't always just the desire of the beekeeper, but also what the local fauna can support. Many factors should go into the number of hives a beekeeper has in an apiary.
Factors to Determine Potential Number of Hives in an Apiary
- Land area
- Surrounding crops
- Water sources
- Time resources
- Space capacity for hives
- Wind direction
A Beekeeper Plans for Spring in the Winter
Overall, the winter season is a time for the beekeeper to plan their actions for their apiaries in the upcoming spring. These actions can be planned for, but then reality occurs, and the beekeeper will adjust accordingly.
In comparison to business, this is a time to re-evaluate what needs to change and how the beekeeper is going to make those changes happen. Attending beekeeping club meetings, reading books, learning, and implementing can all be part of this process. The downtime has plenty to do still, just not as much hands-on work in the apiary.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Chris Andrews
Chris Andrews (author) from Ohio on September 02, 2018:
I hope that you enjoyed it. Always something to do.
Phoebe from Papua New Guinea on September 02, 2018:
Chris Andrews (author) from Ohio on August 28, 2018:
I generally have two harvests and most of the time at least 100 pounds per hive. Appreciate the time to read and comment.
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on August 28, 2018:
I never thought what went into bee keeping before. It's a lot of work! I'm a bit confused though as to the honey. How much do they actually produce? Obviously, they can't consume all that they produce or there would be none leftover to use or sell. How often do you remove the frames and harvest the honey? You say they aren't active in the winter which is logical - are they active in the other three seasons? You also mention the cocoons - I wasn't aware they make cocoons. Thanks for such an interesting article.
Chris Andrews (author) from Ohio on August 27, 2018:
While I have time, I plan on it. This is part of a 4 part series, others will be up soon.
Joyce Dykstra on August 27, 2018:
Keep the onfo coming! Very interesting!
Chris Andrews (author) from Ohio on August 27, 2018:
Not much with bees, but lot of planning.
Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on August 27, 2018:
I never really thought about beekeeping during the colder months.