My wintertime hive prep keeps evolving, and this year’s checklist is no exception. Based on the weird weather we’ve had all spring and summer, I expect we may have some strange weather through the winter as well. Here are some things to consider for wintertime preparation. Please note that many of the suggestions are alternatives—you may not be able to use all the ideas.
Because I believe Varroa mites should be managed by the end of August, I don’t consider mite control as part of my wintertime preparations. Still, if you haven’t done anything, at least do a sugar roll test and see where you are. If you have a heavy mite load, it is my opinion that tending to them is the most important thing you can do for the coming winter.
Prioritize queen health during your wintertime hive prep. Check each hive for a laying queen. Brood nests are smaller in the fall, but you should still see some brood in your colonies. If not, order a queen while there is still time.
- If you have colonies that are extremely small, consider combining the smaller ones into one larger one.
- If you want to keep colonies separate, consider stacking small colonies on top of larger ones with a double-screen board.
- I like to have around 80 pounds of honey in each double deep hive. We don’t have very cold winters here, but they are long. Rain can keep the bees from foraging right into April. Figure out how much honey you will need for your area, and if your hives are light, feed them.
- Make sure the honey frames are in the right place. In a Langstroth, honey should be on both sides of the brood nest and above it. In a top-bar hive, the honey should be on one side of the cluster or the other, not both.
- If honey stores remain questionable, consider making candyboards or candy cakes for winter.
- Reduce hive entrances to keep out mice and other small creatures that might be looking for a warm place to spend the winter.
- Remove weedy vegetation near the hives that small creatures can use as a ladder.
- All ventilation ports should be screened, and all extra openings should be closed. Remember, the bees won’t leave their cluster to defend hive openings.
- A mouse guard can be made from #4 hardware cloth.
- A shrew guard can also be made from #4 hardware cloth. (Only use #4 when pollen is not being collected.)
Too Much Empty Space
Too much space in the hive increases draftiness and makes it harder for the bees to patrol for pests. As part of wintertime hive prep, reduce extra space.
- Consolidate frames into fewer boxes, if possible.
- Remove extra boxes, especially those that are nearly empty.
- Consider using follower boards to reduce empty space and increase insulation.
- Make sure your lids fit well enough to keep out the rain.
- Tip the hive slightly forward, so the water runs out the front, especially if you are using solid bottom boards.
- In very rainy areas, consider a rain shelter.
If moisture from condensation is collecting inside your hives:
- Consider using a moisture board in the lid.
- Consider using a moisture quilt with ventilation ports. (Ports can be drilled at an angle so water drains out.)
- To keep dry air moving through the hive, consider using a ventilated inner cover and/or a ventilated gabled roof.
- Consider using a screened bottom board without a varroa tray all winter long.
- Consider using an inner cover for greater insulation
- Use a slatted rack to add space between the bottom of the cluster and the drafty opening.
- Consider wrapping your hives with insulation or tar paper, but don’t forget ventilation.
- Consider using a skirt if your hives are off the ground.
- Using a skirt can reduce drafts.
- Secure lids with tie-downs or heavy objects
- Shield upper ventilation ports from side winds.
- Consider using a windbreak, such as bales of straw.
If flooding is a problem, don’t wait: move your hives now.
In six years of reading and beekeeping, this is easily the very best winter preparation checklist I’ve seen for honey bees. I especially like the quilt, rain cover and candy feeder designs. Thank you.
The link to the sugar roll test at the U of M seems to be broken or incorrect. Google finds a series of pictures illustrating a test from the U of M. Was this possibly the site you intended?
Thank you for pointing out the broken link. You should be able to get to the .pdf now.
I am new at beekeeping and was wondering where I can find more info on the skirt for wintering hives that are not on the ground. What is it made of and how is it attached?
I’ve seen it done two ways. Some people go around the base of the hive with a roll of tar paper and just stable it in place. Others take sheets of styrofoam and duct tape the squares around the base of the hive. The skirt doesn’t have to be completely air tight, in fact it wouldn’t hurt to let it breathe a little. But the big benefit is that it reduces the airflow, and therefor the heat loss, from under the hive.
You can also make a bee cozy, which is similar.
Hi, this is my second year beekeeping and first year with a top-bar hive. The top bar is full of honey both sides of the brood nest, should I rearrange and put the honey on one side? Which side? Shouldn’t they have some honey insulation on both sides? Thank you in advance for your insights! I love your blog, and thanks for turning me on to the TrogBlog! Those pictures are amazing!!!!!
I would put a follower board and/or a sheet of insulation on one side of the cluster and the honey on the other side. Let’s say your cluster is in the middle with honey on both sides. The cluster will move in the direction of the food, but the cluster stays together. It will move one way or the other, not both. Now say it eats it way through half the stores and gets to one end of the hive. The bee cluster will not turn around and pass the big empty area to get to the other half of the honey. They might find it on a really warm day, but if it stays cold, they will huddle on one end and starve, not even knowing there is honey at the other end.
Hi Rusty, one of my hives has given up on their bottom entrance. Can I completely close it off? Instead of using the bottom entrance they have chewed through the wood that separates the bottom two deeps on the front of the hive creating a slight gap between the two boxes and making that their main entrance. How would one go about winterizing that? Thanks,
It sounds like it’s small enough that you shouldn’t have to do anything to it. I would just close up the original entrance and let them use the one they like.
Hello Rusty; Thank you for this great check list.
I have a question about screened bottom boards. I have them on my hives but always leave the tray in, under the screen. When do you leave the tray out? Our winters (middle of Ontario) can get quite cold ….. my concern would be that even with wrapping the hives the colony may get too cold with just the screen and no tray. But I am totally open to trying something new if I understand it better. I have been looking for more information about how to use the screened bottom boards more effectively. Thank you
I leave them out year-round, but I live in a much more temperate region. For maximum benefit as a source of ventilation, the trays need to be out. So in a climate with cold winters, I would leave the trays out in the summer and put them back for the winter. I recommend putting them in when nighttime lows are about 0°C, although that is just an arbitrary number. Here, I usually wait until about -7°C before sliding them in, but it usually doesn’t remain cold here for very long.
Thank you Rusty for this this timely blog. I used the content for our meeting of the Upper Snake River Beekeepers with 20 in attendance. I answered many questions with responses like,”the Honey Bee Suite has plans for that”, and “the Honey Bee Suite discusses that”, and “the Honey Bee Suite has a recipe for those”. Well you get the idea. (I gave you the credit). Thanks again
That’s a really nice comment, Ken. Thank you!
Have you ever heard of using a vinegar solution to spray drawn comb before storage for winter? In years past, I’ve found I have some mildew on the stored frames. I store in an unheated area with a cement pad. Because of wax moths, I store the boxes on an elevated sheet of plywood, with weighted plywood on the top boxes. This is not the best situation and I’m sure there’s humidity that comes off the floor. I realize the bees clean this up in the spring, but I wondered about saving them some work.
No, I haven’t heard about using a vinegar solution like that. It might work, as long as you get them dry enough afterward. I always store frames with the boxes stacked at 90 degrees to each other so both light and air gets into each of the boxes: air to keep them dry and light to deter wax moths (who hate light). This has worked for me so far. My storage area also has a cement pad, but it has skylights, too, which let in plenty of light.
Thanks. I think I’ll try a little experiment over winter, combining the two. 8 ft, low temp fluorescents may need to suffice.
I’m a visual person….! Trying to picture the way you stack your boxes for winter. Sounds like you have one sitting the way it would on a hive, then the next one on its end on top? The next proper way up again on top of that? Does it get a little wobbly? And is your storage area mouse proof or do they leave them alone? I have a bit of mildew issue as they’re in a dark, cool (sometimes damp!) area. Not the best, I know!
You are making it too complicated (and wobbly, I think.) Take two boxes and set them on the floor in their normal orientation, one atop the other. Now, take the top one and turn it 90 degrees. Done. The third one will line up with the first one, and the fourth will line up with the second. Just every other one gets turned 90 degrees. Very simple. Very easy. Very stable. Since light gets in all of them, it helps control wax moths. And since they are ventilated, it helps with mold.
Then, at the base of the stack, on all four sides, I set mouse traps.