Winter Beekeeping Considerations (By Jonathan Howard*)

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Several winter beekeeping considerations are necessary to keep your beehive alive until Spring. Many of these best practices should have been done already as we are in the New Year, now. The most important thing is to make sure your bees have enough honey to feed on during cold months. One hive of bees should have one super (top box) full of honey which is about 60 pounds of honey. Supplemental feeding can be started by November. Sugar patties are an example of this feeding. They are made from pollen, sugar, and water. Some have additional nutrients and essential oils. You can either buy your own sugar patties from a beekeeping supply house or you can make your own. Checking and treating for varroa mites should have been completed by early December.

sugar patty

Sugar patties can be store bought or homemade.

Bees need to stay warm during the winter just like us. The bees will sacrifice their lives to keep their queen warm at an astounding 95 degrees. Staying warm is not the only need for bees during the winter. Condensation created by the bees’ heat and moisture can collect at the top of the hive, which can end up freezing the bees. Therefore, proper circulation is required. On warm winter days, starting around 40 degrees, bees will do what is called a “cleansing flight” in which they leave the hive to stretch a little and go to the bathroom. During really cold snaps, your hive can be insulated with a wrap. Before you know it, it will be spring and time to reassess, split or combine hives, and prepare for the coming season.

hive insulation

Insulating hives during extremely cold and windy days is recommended.

*Jonathan Howard is a senior at The Fletcher School in Charlotte and met several Watauga County beekeepers during a 4-day shadowing experience at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Watauga County office.