How I Winter my Bees

Winter is the easiest time of year for beekeepers because once you get your bees tucked in for the winter there really isn’t much you can do, but this also makes it a scary time of year. Of course we still check on them but you can’t open up a hive until it’s over 10 degrees so no hive inspections. We use a plastic tube as a kind of stethoscope to listen to them and see if they sound strong instead of an inspection. But before this we get them ready for winter. 

In the fall once the honey is off we treat the bees. We use Apivar strips to treat for varroa mites, and a powdered oxy (oxytetracycline) for foul brood. Usually we do both in the fall and spring. This year will be the first time we didn’t treat with oxy before winter, so we’ll see how that goes. The treatments need to be done after the supers are removed and before you get the bees ready for winter. When we take the strips off its a sign we need to get ready for winter.

We do three things to get the bees ready. First we put insulation in the inner cover. I want to experiment with using wood shavings instead of insulation next year. We then wrap the hives in tar paper. I know some people use the bee cozys you can order from bee supply stores but I’ve never tried one. You don’t want your bees too bundled up or moisture won’t be able to get out and your hive could get moldy. 

Finally we put an entrance reducer on the hives. The reducers help prevent robbing, they prevent mice from getting in and they also keep them a bit warmer by letting less air in. We are using both wooden and metal entrance reducers and I think I like the wooden ones better but I haven’t decided. I worry the metal ones don’t provide a big enough space for the bees to clean out dead bees. You can make the wooden ones yourself or buy either kind at a bee supply store. You could also just block the hive door with whatever you have on hand. This isn’t the best option because the real reducers are secured to the hive. 


And that’s it. Now you just need to cross your fingers and hope everybody makes it through the winter. 

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3 thoughts on “How I Winter my Bees”

  1. Always interesting to see how other beekeepers do things. What about feeding? I think I remember a post saying you do leave some comb in there for them, but as it sounds like it gets pretty cold where you are, do you do bee cakes or sugar water or anything?

    Also curious about your statement bout pretreating your healthy hives. I wasn’t sure if you realized that, just like with people, antibiotics for healthy bees have the ability to potentially make them weaker overall to pesticide exposure (here’s a good link to a study: https://phys.org/news/2011-11-widely-bee-antibiotic.html, and here’s a good link debating it: https://www.honeybeesonline.com/bee-medication/). Thoughts…?

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    1. We feed weak hives in the fall with sugar syrup to build them up before winter, but we leave two brood boxes on which gives them enough honey for the winter. If a hive becomes weak during the winter than we will feed them but in the last three years we’ve only needed to feed two hives during the winter (knock on wood) and it was a longer colder winter.
      I treat for mites every year because mites never go away and I’d hate for the mite population to grow over the winter when there’s nothing I can do about it. I think you misread, I did not treat with oxy this year. They’ve actually put a new law in in Canada where you have to have a vet (who knows nothing about bees so it’s annoying but I see why they’re doing it) prescribe it for you. They want to control the use of antibiotics. I think it’s not the best way, maybe a bee inspector instead of a vet. We talked about it with our large animal vet and she said as long as she doesn’t have to go near them she’ll prescribe it, so seems to me the extra step won’t help anything.

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