Beekeeping 101 – Overwintering bees in cold climates

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Wrapped Up Tight

In the great white north winters get a little harsh and bees are not very fond of cold weather. Actually,  overwintering bees in cold climates is possible, it’s the not the cold that causes problems, it’s moisture and food availability. Here’s one thing we’re doing to overwinter the bees so they survive the cold.

Our first goal is to make sure we have strong hives going into winter. We fed them a solution of one part sugar to one part water for most of the summer. This was only because we received our bees soon after the nectar and pollen flow was underway and almost over for season. Theydid find both in the wild, but not in the quantity necessary to build a strong colony for overwintering. Therefore…sugar syrup. (I don’t necessarily like this but for our first year we need to build strong colonies.)

In late September and early October, when the goldenrod nectar and pollen bloomed, the colonies grew extremely fast. Within a week and a half each colony had built out twenty frames of capped honey and pollen. I estimate that they had anywhere from 80 to 100 pounds of honey, which is what we are told they need to to get through winter. However if they can’t get to it they will starve. So after consulting our mentor, who also sold us our bees, we developed a plan of action for overwintering the bees.

In another article we’ll talk about a method for emergency feeding we’ll use this winter. For now we’ll only talk about wrapping the hives in tar paper. Wrapping the hives assists the sun in raising the internal temperature of the hives. In winter bees cluster around the queen and this temperature is roughly 95 degrees F. The air in the hive is at ambient temperature so wrapping the hives is a strategy to keep the internal temperature somewhere above outside ambient so the bees expend less energy to stay warm and on those marginal days can move about the hive to feed on their honey stores.

Our hives are all built on what is known as medium supers or boxes. They are about 6 5/8 inches tall and each contains 10 frames for the bees to build on. This winter each colony has 4 supers, which in height is about 26 inches tall, at least that is what we need to wrap.

This is a simple method of helping the hives maintain a better internal temperature and only took about one hour to do. Now that we know our way around the process I can’t imagine it taking more than 15 minutes per hive. A small investment in time to help the bees make it through winter. Let’s hope spring brings us two healthy hives and some surplus honey!