Getting honeybees ready for winter, aka winter beekeeping preparation, is one of those things that can fall off the list for beekeepers, probably not a good thing. I believe if you just leave your hives as is, most will perish.
Below we have several videos on getting honeybees ready for winter, but first of all, here's a few things we do to each hive in late fall to prepare for winter.
Winter Beekeeping Checklist:
- Feed 1:2 sugar syrup in the fall
- Treat bees for varroa mites
- Feed one gallon of syrup with Fumagillin
- Add dry sugar to the top of the hive.
- Use an insulated inner cover.
- Tilt the hives forward.
- Close up the screened bottom board.
- Insulate the hives with polystyrene.
- Install a mouse guard on entrance.
- Strap down the hives.
Varroa Mite Treatment: From what I understand, varroa mite populations in your beehive soar in winter, so knocking down that population before winter makes sense. Watch our oxalic acid varroa mite treatment video, its pretty easy to do and is a huge step toward getting your bees through winter. One should rotate mite treatments, Hop Guard is the other mite treatment I'd suggest.
Sugar Syrup: Ask your beekeeping neighbor when they start feeding sugar syrup. I add Fumagillin the first gallon of syrup. Let the bees take down all this treated syrup before adding more sugar syrup to the feeder.
Dry Sugar: This year we used the mountain camp sugar method when providing sugar on the top of the hive. In years past we have made sugar cakes, but this year I wanted something simpler. Reading about this method on the Honey Bee Suite blog, I agree with Rusty's post, that the mountain camp dry sugar method works pretty good, and because its easy, you will do it. Making fondant or sugar cakes is a pain, and you will likely procrastinate about making the cakes it until its too late. Watch: Mountain Camp Method Video
Insulated Inner Covers: I am a big convert to using these. Before I put them on the hives in winter, every spring I would find mold in the hives and dead bees. Insulated inner covers reduce or eliminate condensation from collecting on the top of the hive. Imagine its raining inside a hive in winter, that's condensation. Wet bees are dead bees. Watch and learn how make an them in this video:
Tilt the beehive forward: Gravity works. Extra insurance to keep condensation from raining down on the hive cluster. Tipping the hive forward allows any drops of water that have begun to form on the top of the hive (which is the bottom of the inner cover) to slide forward, hit the front wall of the hive, and finally, draining out the front of the hive. Its easy to do, just slide a 2x4 under the back of each hive before you strap it down.
A few more winter survival tips:
Close up the screened bottom board: This is one of those opinion based things. I use screened bottom boards that have a plastic board that slides into the bottom. So I close off the screen in winter. Because it is important to have ventilation in the hive, yet reduce condensation, the hive needs at least one top vent hole.
Insulate the Hive: First of all, the best method we've found so far is to surround the hive with with polystyrene, secured with a ratchet strap. We have two videos about this, watch here: Beehive Winter Wrap
Mouse Guard: This can be bought from bee suppliers or you can make one out of ½" hardware screening. One year I blanked on mouse guards, as a result, I lost a hive to mice. Its sad and a pain to clean up.
Strap Down The Hives: This may seem overkill, yet it has saved us. We secure the hives against high winds and bears. One strap goes around the hive itself. The second hive secures the hive to the ground with two metal stakes. Furthermore, if you live in an earthquake zone, strapping your hives is a must. Watch our video about how using straps saved a hive here.
Winter beekeeping is not the easiest part of keeping bees, therefore some preparation in the fall can help bees survive winter. Follow these tips and increase your chances of getting bees through winter.