Winterizing Bees – Keeping your bees alive this winter

It hurts. It will haunt you like a lost first love. You’ll be a better beekeeper. At a stretch, in the end, it’ll make you a better person. The bees that have been so prolific, so giving and such a source of wonder during the summer – gone. The feeling of inspecting the carcass of a hive in late winter is a turning point in the bee keepers’ journey.    

Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. Novice bee keepers, (and believe me, I’ve had to do this too) at some point have to answer this question: How do I keep my bees alive in winter?    

Failure to plan is planning to fail. 

Here’s your Fall checklist for winterizing bees in your hives. 

Late September – two things to look at here  

One: How’s your hive?  A hive that is healthy and producing ample amounts of honey will need less work than a struggling hive.  Consider combining hives now if it’s been a slow season or your girls are not quite happy.   

Two: When’s the bee keeping season?  Months are only a suggested idea.  Late summer?  Early Autumn?  Keep it simple here.  What can you see?  Ample flowering plants?

What can you feel?  Unusually cool mornings and evenings? The answer to these questions and more will help you understand how you will keep your bees alive in winter.   

If it’s unusually cool and the weather predictions are for an early winter, you really should consider commencing your hive close down.   

If it’s unusually warm, then let your girls do their thing for another month. Don’t forget to begin to prep bee food for winter. Hive close down is coming.   

October – get busy! 

With the days shortening you need to get a little bit busy.  You need to know how to keep your bees alive in winter.  Get sorted with your bee food for winter.  Your queen’s egg production is definitely reducing and subsequently, your brood nest will be in decline.  This is the time when your drones are pushed out of the hive.   

If you see a surplus of honey in your top super due to a late summer then get it.  Many keepers keep this harvest uncapped for feeding their bees in winter 

If you have hives that are struggling, then you need to consolidate your hives for winter.  The end picture you’re looking for is a strong lower deep and a manipulated upper deep.  Move the reasonable/succeeding frames from your other hives to your upper deep. In extreme circumstances you’ll need to manipulate your lower deeps. In essence, get your strongest frames into both of your winterized deeps. Providing ample food in your upper deep is the basis of how to keep bees alive in winter. 

Keep somewhere near the forefront of your mind during September and October the need to take action against hive pests. Beekeepers across the country have been forced to face the new reality of being proactive against possible pest and mite invasion. It is easy to offer general advice here but the real resource you need is your local apiary club. The diseases and pests prevalent in your area and the action required will differ from region to region.  Talk, read and watch to get the right information for your hives.  

November – action time! 

 Feeding bees in winter is something that beekeepers in cooler climates really need to think about. If you’re in for some sort of severe winter, then you really should consider a few products to help your bees make it through the tough times to come. Here are some tips for closing down your hive.  

Before we kick off – remove your queen excluder!  Your bees will move upwards as it gets cooler.  Your queen needs to move too.  If the all-important queen can’t move up to the warmer feeding super, then neither will the worker bees – end result is starved bees.  

winterizing bees

There’s a few more things to consider during November when winterizing bee – do you need to strap your hives down to prevent a wind-powered hive collapse?  Will any grass or vegetation block the entrance? Will a massive snow dump cover the entrance?  What are the prevailing winds? Apply some common sense and get it sorted out now.  

Let’s talk condensation. If you live in particularly cold or humid regions, then condensation can be a death nell for your hive. In cold regions the moisture that can condense on the top of your hive can freeze. As temperatures get above freezing, this rains back down on the cluster. Your bees are now very cold and very wet. You have a couple of options here that should seriously be considered. Try either of these to keep your bees alive throughout Winter. 

Simple and easy to use, this ventilated inner cover from Shadwin’s could be all you need.

If you want to go the whole hog and kill three or four birds with one stone, try this quality screened bottom board from Apimaye.  Its ability to provide ventilation, chemical free Varroa mite protection, mice protection and adjustable hive entrance holes are pure genius. 

If you’re providing bee food for winter, then the use of a bee feeder like this unit from Hampton Rose Company is simple and effective. Minimal hive disturbance, easy viewing and the choice of using wet or dry food make this an easy choice. 

This bee hive cover from BeeCastle will suit those of you up north.  A word of warning, you run the risk of getting your hive too hot and promoting condensation if your winters aren’t cool enough.  Remember to leave an easy entrance point for your bees as well.  

That should give you some helpful hints for winterizing bees to save them during the cold months ahead.  If you run into trouble, contact your local beekeeping club for some help.


Best wishes bee friends!