Preparing your bees for winter

Photo credit to Amanda B Griffin Photography

Photo credit to Amanda B Griffin Photography

Preparing your bees for Winter

The cold months are upon us which means that the largest amount of colony losses is right around the corner.  It is important to do your hive inspections before the cold temperature sets in.  We wanted to share some tips on what to look for in your upcoming inspections.  From the right amount of food to hive location.

Photo credit Amanda B Griffin photography 

Photo credit Amanda B Griffin photography 

Honey bees are cold blooded insects that regulate their own body temperature and do not hibernate during the winter months.  Instead, they will vibrate their flight muscles, creating friction to keep the hive at about 93 degrees fahrenheit .  In order to do this, they need energy.  The honey bees will eat the stored honey during the months they can not forage.  This is why adequate food storage is crucial.  
How much honey is good?  The general thought is 70-90 lbs. per hive here in the mid-west region but keep in mind that climate will play a role in this amount.  Please check with other local beekeepers if your climate is different then ours.
Do I feed my bees?  Yes, we feed.  During fall months we feed our bees a 2:1 sugar:water solution to help them store up.  We have a DIY article on making your own feeder if you are interested in how we feed.  Click here.
Are there other ways to feed?  Yes there are, it is called "dry feeding".  You can do this by placing granulated sugar on newspaper on top of the frames in the top box.  This method is best used as "in-hive" feeding during cold months when liquid feeding is contraindicated .  Other options are fondant "bee candy" and pollen pattys.  Simple recipes can be found online.

Photo credit Amanda B Griffin Photography

Photo credit Amanda B Griffin Photography

"When the Queen is happy, there is peace in the Kingdom", a quote that I heard once and enjoyed.  Going into winter with strong, healthy Queens free of disease will give your hive a better chance at survival.  The Queens age will also be a factor for survival.  Some beekeepers will re-queen a second season Queen because she has a 50:50 chance of failure over winter.
What should I look for on my fall inspection?

  • Pest management which includes mite counts and treating if indicated.  
  • Check for hive beetles and wax moths that may be looming in the crevices.  
  • Ensure to visualize adequate food stored in the combs.  
  • Make sure you have brood, the pattern should be tight as a spotty brood pattern can indict a poorly laying queen.
  • Your worker bee population should be large, if your numbers are low you may need to combined smaller colonies (see video).
  • Eliminate unused space.  If you observe that your bees are not storing food or laying eggs in a particular box, remove that unused space.  The extra space will welcome unwanted guests.
Photo credit Amanda B Griffin Photography

Photo credit Amanda B Griffin Photography


  • If not already done, your hives should be facing the southeast direction. It is important to have early morning sun and  direct sunshine most of the day.
  • Moisture will form on the lid of the hive as the bees consume the honey.  Absorbent material can be used in exchange for your inner cover to help diffuse moisture.  These can be purchased or can be made.  Absorbent boards can be purchased or you can make your own "quilt box".
  • Angling the hive also aids in safe moisture run-off.  This can be done by placing shims under the rear of the bottom board, slightly elevating the back of the hive.
  • By propping the top open, between the telescoping cover and inner, you can create an alternative exit for your bees.  This may come useful in months where your entrance may be blocked do to snow. Without proper ventilation they can suffocate. We use a simple twig about the diameter of a pencil as a spacer. This also aids in ventilation.
  • Wind breaks and wrapping may come in handy.  Using a wind break (such as a piece of privacy fence or plywood) creates a barrier from damaging winds.  Hive wraps can be used to add exterior installation or to absorb UV light for added heat.  We use 2" foam installation to cover our hives or you can purchase pre-fabricated ones.

Hope you enjoyed our tips for planning for winter.

Hope you enjoyed our tips for planning for winter.  If you have any comments or concerns please feel free to contact us.
Have a good inspection! 
Krystle & Cory Gaiser

What are my bees doing?

Your first thought when you see this photo may be a fearful ..."Umm, what is happening?" But do not worry.  What you are seeing is called "bearding".

During the hot months honey bees will cluster on the outside of the hive and the term we use to describe this is bearding .  It can be quite frightening in the beginning when you are trying to determine what is going on but no need to fear.  This is not only normal but also can be a great sign that you have a strong colony with a large population. 

So why do they do this?
Honey bees control the temperature of their hive during warm months by fanning to keep the hive ventilated and maintain it at about 93 degrees.  When we enter months with high humidity and high temperatures combined that with high populations, they will begin bearding on the front of the boxes.  Over crowding can make it hard to keep the hive ventilated and overheating can be damaging to the brood.

Could this a sign of swarming?
While a swarming hive will happen suddenly and be pouring out of the entrance is large qualities, bearding  is very calm and quiet.

What do I do now?
Although bearding is generally a good sign, be sure to check your hive.  Do they have enough space? You probably already know the living situation of your honey bees if you monitor them regularly but it is something to think about.  Providing more space, like an additional deep or honey supers, will allow for them to continue building and filling comb.

Hope this helps with any concerns you may have about bearding.  Feel free to contact us with any other questions or concerns.

Krystle & Cory Gaiser