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Let the Overwintering Series Begin!

by Chelsea Callas July 22, 2016 7 Comments

Let the Overwintering Series Begin!

When the sun is shining and the days are long, it can be tough to think about winter. For bees though, winter preparations began in spring. As a beekeeper, you will want to begin preparing now. Why? Over 44% of honeybee colonies didn't survive the U.S. winter last year. Some areas saw losses of over 65%. This is why overwintering is such a crucial subject to all beekeepers. Bees work hard to keep warm and ration food stores in cold months. As beekeepers, it's important to help make these processes be as seamless as possible.

So what exactly is overwintering? The term encapsulates multiple systems and processes. Essentially, overwintering is helping bees prepare their hives for the harsh, cold months to come. We're located in the Pacific Northwest, so we'll be using this region as an example, but it will be important to remember that all timelines and practices we provide are completely dependent on your climate. We always encourage connecting with other beekeepers in your area to learn more about overwintering in your specific region.

Let's start with what our bees are up to right now. During mid-to-late summer months, the queen and worker bees scale back brood production. In a way, they're doing math! They will maintain the optimal amount of brood for the overwintering cluster to generate heat that can survive on their available honey stores.

It's important to remember that no bee is created equal. The brood-to-honey-store ratio is variable due to the climate the bee strain (or breed) has adapted to. For example, Italian bees have large brood clusters since Mediterranean climates have short winters. When Italian bees are kept in cold climates, they often eat through their honey stores too quickly and don't survive the winter.

When you conduct your mid or late summer hive inspections, you'll want to make sure your bees are slowing brood production and storing more honey. If they're not, you'll need to consider some of the techniques we go over in this series to aid in their survival.

Another point to start considering is keeping your bees warm throughout the often chilly late summer nights. As a rule, when the temperature drops below 55 degrees (f), do not break the propolis seal on your hive. Your bees created this seal for insulation. Breaking it allows cool drafts into the hive that make it much harder for them to keep warm. This is why you need to be setting your hive up for winter before the temperature drops, ideally in August.

We'll be covering a series of important topics in more depth in the weeks to come. These topics include:

  • Late season planting for pollinators
  • The dos and don'ts of honey harvesting
  • When and if to feed your bees
  • Weatherproofing and insulating your hive

In addition to this blog series, we will release corresponding videos for each topic that show these overwintering processes in action. The videos will feature our staff entomologist and Education Coordinator, Rebekah, who is a proud beekeeper and ready to teach you the very best overwintering practices. You can check those out on either our Vimeo or Youtube channel.

Welcome to our Overwintering Series, and bring on the winter!

Chelsea Callas
Chelsea Callas


7 Responses

Emeline Dugan
Emeline Dugan

July 28, 2016

Looking foward to all the information. Last winter I lost my hive to varroa and nosema. My entrance was also blocked with dead bees. Started again and you are covering topics of great interest to me. This is my second attempt at overwintering.

T A Swinney
T A Swinney

July 27, 2016

Gerald Kern,
Wow, seems like that would be a smart idea. Only thing is, warm air in rises, and thus would go whistling out the hole at the top. Maybe.
Will be interesting to see if coverer is series.

Frank Stiltner
Frank Stiltner

July 27, 2016

I live in northern Michigan, not to far from the 45th parallel, it gets cold here and last for several months. Two years agoI lost my bees I think by over insulating the hive. Condensation form on the ceiling of the high and dripped on the bees and they froze to death . I would be interested in any suggestions on how to do a better job of insulating the hive.

Roxanne Ochs
Roxanne Ochs

July 25, 2016

Looking forward to this step by step series. I live in Montana and am a first year BeeK and I want my first hive to make it through the winter. I have a TBH so this is great. Thank you!

Derek
Derek

July 25, 2016

I’m really looking forward to this series. It would be great if you could include specifics for those of us who use Warre hives.

Cathy Cattle
Cathy Cattle

July 25, 2016

Great start on this, glad to see I am not worrying to much to early. Sure is different from year to year on the TBH it seems, spoiled the first year with hard workers.

Gerald Kern
Gerald Kern

July 25, 2016

Last winter I lost a strong hive. The biggest reason was the entrance was blocked with died bees and the others were blocked and they too died. Wouldn’t it be wise to create a hive with an upper entrance to be used in the winter? When I got my hive in the spring there was a solid 3 or 4" of dead bees to get out of the entrance.

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