Getting your bees ready for winter


By Lisa Jensen

Special to The PREVIEW

This time of year, you may be canning, pickling, freezing, putting up your crops in common storage and, of course, eating. Bears are in hyperphagia, eating and drinking nonstop in preparation for hibernation. Deer are munching their way through the forbs.

Like bears and deer, honey bees need to be healthy and strong, and have food stores so they can survive the cold winter.

Hopefully, your bees (and you) have had a good summer and you have healthy, strong hives. During the summer, a colony should reach over 40,000 bees by the time of major honeyflow. A hive scale is very helpful in estimating the number of bees: one deep frame covered with adult bees weighs about 1 pound and equals about 3,500 bees. Going into winter, the hive should have 20,000 to 30,000 bees, which is eight to 10 frames covered with bees on both sides.

During a honeyflow, bees are very active and you may observe much foraging activity. Minimize your time working the hives so as not to disrupt their activity and to avoid killing bees, especially the queen. Before and during a honeyflow, you may need to add supers to give the bees more room to store the nectar. Only add as many frames as the bees can fill, so that they fill one super before moving into the one above. Be sure to keep the queen out of the supers; one method to ensure the queen stays in the brood chamber is to use a queen excluder.

To prepare for winter, bees will hoard more nectar than they may need. If you have provided empty combs for them to store honey, you may end up with a surplus that you can harvest for your own use. Be sure, however, to only harvest the surplus and leave ample food reserves for the bees to get through the winter. In our climate, each colony needs about 90 to 120 pounds of surplus honey.

Besides having ample food stores, bees should be healthy going into winter. Once you have removed the supers and surplus honey, inspect your hives to make sure the bees are in good condition. This includes checking for mites and brood diseases and treating if necessary, checking winter stores and feeding if necessary, removing any honey supers you do not want the bees to move into over the winter, and requeening if necessary so the colony has a young, vigorous queen.

If your hives have a high population of varroa mites, be sure to treat early enough in the fall for the treatments to work before winter. You must remove the honey supers before doing so.

Bees survive the winter temperatures by forming a cluster (just as we may huddle together to stay warm). Bees will form a cluster when the air temperature is below 57 degrees Fahrenheit and most bees will have joined the cluster when the air temperatures are 43 to 46 degrees. Within the cluster, bees carry on their activities, eating, rearing brood and generating heat by “shivering.” While you want to protect the bees from cold winds, the hives still need ventilation as these activities generate water vapor.

Bees need a connective bridge from the main cluster to the food stores, so in the fall, they should have stored honey above the cluster. Feed your bees syrup while the days are still warm, so they have time to cure the stores before winter.

In preparation for winter, make sure your hives are protected from cold winds. Shrubs, fences or buildings may provide a windbreak, or you can construct a temporary one using a snow fence or slotted boards. Place weights on top of the hives so that the covers do not blow off or strap the tops onto the hive bodies. Be sure there is still adequate ventilation.

In midwinter, the queen will resume egg laying. At this time, the temperature of the cluster near the eggs and brood will be around 93 degrees. Bees may leave the hive on sunny days when the temperature reaches over 57 degrees to take cleansing flights, removing fecal matter from the hive.

Winter is a good time to clean and repair your equipment (in between skiing, of course) and to make plans for next spring.

Coffee with your

Extension agent

You can have coffee with your Extension agent, Robin Young, in Arboles on Oct. 5 at the Tara Community Center, 10 a.m. to noon.

4-H open house

There will be a 4-H open house at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 23 at the fairgrounds. Come see what 4-H is all about. Call the Extension office at 264-5931 for more information.

Healthy Lands Workshop

There will be a Healthy Lands Workshop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Extension office. Please call the San Juan Conservation District office at 731-3615 to register. There will be a free lunch.