Preparing your beehive for winter is one of your most important jobs as a beekeeper. While bees are resilient enough to survive Australian winters, the cold is still a struggle for them. Apiarists can suffer heavy losses to their bee populations if they don’t winter pack down their hives properly, as it can disrupt their beekeeping cycle and limit their productivity the following year.
Packing down your apiaries will require different approaches depending on your location, but whether you’re taking mild precautions for the cool of a Queensland July or buckling down for the snows of Tasmania, here’s what you need to know to prepare your beehives for the winter.
What happens in the hive as winter approaches?
As the weather cools in autumn, the queen will begin to slow her egg laying as the hive’s pollen and nectar intake diminishes. She may even stop laying eggs entirely for some weeks leading up to the winter solstice. This typically resumes after the winter solstice when the days start growing longer again. The colonies will also exile their drones, because the drones aren’t necessary during the winter months and the colonies would prefer not to feed them. Without food or protection, the drones will all be dead by early winter.
The colonies will then begin to rely on their honey reserves and cluster in tight groups in the centre of the hive to generate and share heat.
How to prepare your hive for winter
When it comes to packing down your hives, it’s best to anticipate rather than react. Keep an eye on the forecasts and pack down before winter is here to stay. Be sure to monitor the effectiveness of your winter pack down efforts from year to year to get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Let’s dive into some of our top tips for preparing your hive for winter:
1. Reposition the hives
When the days grow shorter and the weather colder, direct sunlight will come at a premium for your hives. Consider moving them to a space that maximises their exposure to direct sunlight. However, remember to keep in mind that windbreaks are important for your hives as well. Winter winds risk sapping heat from the hives or, worse, blowing them over. Survival rates in overturned hives are very low. Position the hives next to a solid windbreak and secure them.
2. Cover and insulate the hives
Finding the right balance is key. You want to allow air through the hive, but not so much that the bees can’t keep warm. Use reducers to control circulation and prevent pests like mice from taking refuge inside the hive. Plastic beehives are particularly helpful with this issue, as plastic is less vulnerable to mildew and rot compared to wooden hives.
3. Reduce the size of the hives
Once the drones are cast out, the queen slows her egg laying and the bees cluster in the centre of their hives, so the colony doesn’t need so much real estate to survive. In fact, excess hive bodies will become a hindrance. They can stress the queen and dilute the heat. Consider reducing the size of the hives when you pack down.
4. Control for AFB
Check for American foulbrood while packing down. If you think AFB may have been detected, use a testing kit or send the sample away for testing. Should the results come back positive then refer to the Code of Conduct. Note: In Tasmania Antibiotics may be used to for AFB this is outlined in the code of conduct for Tasmania.
5. Provide food
Bees rarely leave the hive when the weather’s cold. If you have harvested much of your colonies’ honey reserves, you’ll need to provide them with food to see them through the winter. Sugar syrup is typically cheap to buy and cheaper to make, while pollen patties can help suppress the growth of mites. Other beekeepers get away with supplements or loose, granulated sugar (though it’s worth noting that heavily processed sugars can cause nosema).
What to monitor in your hive during winter
Your work does not stop for the winter once you’ve prepared the hives. Keep these tips in mind as you monitor your hives throughout the winter.
- Keep an eye on the hive entrances, sweeping away any dead bees or snow that may be blocking them.
- Check the food stocks. Depending on the length of the winter, additional food may be necessary.
- Don’t over-monitor the hive. Opening the hives releases much of the heat the bees have been working to create. Only check the hive when the weather’s warm enough for bees to venture out of the hive.
Pack down your hives with help from the experts
Whether you need to buy beehives or equipment, Nuplas Apiarist Supplies will have what you’re looking for. Check out our quality beekeeping supplies online or contact Nuplas Apiarist Supplies with your beekeeping questions. Our passionate and professional beekeepers will be able to answer your questions.