How Beekeepers Keep Bees Through the Winter

 How Beekeepers Keep Bees Through the Winter

I am a beekeeper in northern Ohio. I am not a commercial beekeeper, nor do I rent beehives for pollination. This means that during the winter, my job with the bees is to make sure they have honey to eat, plan for next year, and prepare my supplies for spring.
Step by step beekeeping in winter.

Let's take it one step at a time:
Bee storage
Cell management
Manufacture of boxes, frames and accessories
Plan your spring supplies
Number of beehives

1. Stock Honey for the Bees

During the winter, bees are inactive and consume their honey supply. Come winter, I try to have at least 15 frames of honey in each hive, although I aim for about 19 frames.

If the winter is long, the beekeeper may need to feed the bees. Beekeepers will feed a variety of foods during the winter. Some beekeepers freeze some frames of honey, and can replace some frames if they need to. Others will use granulated sugar or another sugar-based feed.

Winter pancakes made with pollen and other ingredients are available. In a typical winter, the bees in my area go through 60 to 80 pounds of honey, so leaving 15 frames of honey always provides a winter store for the bees.

If I'm having a problem with the bees getting low on honey over the winter, I'll look at pollen or wintercake, as granulated sugar recipes usually don't have everything the bees are used to. Many beekeepers rely heavily on granulated sugar.

2. Hive Management

Beehive management means determining how to deal with the beekeeper's beehive problems. Are there treatments for Varroa mites? If so, how often and what is the schedule? If there is a problem with small hive beetles what are the treatments this season? If the beekeeper has never had a problem, what steps will be taken if it becomes a problem?

Reports have been written on these individual topics, so we will not go into depth. But people should be aware of these problems and what to do about them.

3. Manufacture of boxes, frames and accessories

Winter bee activity is very low for this beekeeper. During the winter months, beekeepers plan for the coming year, building beehives, frames, and any other woodwork that will be needed. Some beekeepers make their own equipment, while others buy it. I make almost everything except the frames and bases. Due to the time it takes to make them, I prefer to just buy the frame originally.

It is a good idea to have some extra bees. There may be a swarm that catches the beekeeper's attention. A fellow beekeeper may need to separate but may not want another hive. The beekeeper may need to detach one of his hives. There may be something else. There are many other reasons why being prepared is beneficial.

Old foundations need to be cleaned and/or replaced due to cocoon construction and age. It's also a good idea to reinforce or replace the boxes to protect them from the weather as much as possible.

4. Plan for Spring Consumables

Winter is a good time for beekeepers to figure out how much honey, sugar water, or other honey supplements they will need for the upcoming spring season. They may also need to make and/or purchase pollen pancakes for the season. When planning pollen broods, plan to provide several pounds per hive in early spring to aid in brood production.

If sugar water is used, it is very easy to prepare as needed. It only takes 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, with optional additives. Some beekeepers like to rescue bees to give back as needed.

5. Hive Count

The one thing every beekeeper should do is decide how many hives he or she wants. Do they want to grow a larger aquarium, downsize the aquarium, or keep only one size of animal? With these considerations in mind, the beekeeper knows if more hives are needed. If staying the same or downsizing, there is an opportunity to earn additional money by selling hives, stem cells, divisions, etc.

With these decisions, the beekeeper may need to find a new location for another brood or determine if the current location can support the desired number of hives. The decision to expand is not always just the desire of the beekeeper, but also what the local fauna can support. There are many factors that go into the number of beehives a beekeeper has.

Factors that determine the potential number of beehives in an apiary
Land area
Surrounding crops.
Water sources
Time resources
Space capacity of beehives
Wind direction
Snow banks

The beekeeper plans the spring for the winter.

In general, winter is a good time for beekeepers to plan their beekeeping for next spring. These actions may be planned, but then reality sets in, and the beekeeper will adapt accordingly.
Compared to business, it is time to re-evaluate what needs to change and how beekeepers will achieve these changes. Attending beekeeping club meetings, reading books, learning and implementing can be part of the process. There is still plenty to do in your downtime, but not as much as working on a fish farm.

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