Beekeeping in winter actually starts way before winter. As we all know, winter is a critical time for our bees. Making sure that they are strong enough and well prepared to survive it takes skill and great care.
In many ways, beekeeping in winter is all about sitting back and enjoying the fruits of our hard work. Or, to look at it from another angle, it may be a time for regret at our ill preparation. To make sure it is the former for you, and not the latter, here are some tips to help ensure your hive's survival.
1. Make sure you have a large number of bees in your hive. Often and especially in early spring, beekeepers are so concerned about preventing swarms that they intentionally control the size of the hive so it doesn't become too big. In winter, the larger the colony, the greater the chance of survival. Don't be afraid to have a large number of bees in your hive. The more there are, the more protection they will receive against the cold winter months.
2. Make sure your hive is well stocked with honey. Again, in response to swarm management, some beekeepers intentionally keep the honey stores low. Or it is also possible that after honey is harvested, few honey is left behind for the colony. It is important to have the honey stores healthy if you want your bees to have enough food throughout winter.
3. Make sure your hive is well stocked with pollen. Aside from honey, your bees will also need pollen. Pollen provides bees with protein which they will need in order to survive winter.
4. Make sure you have a strong queen that lays a solid sealed brood right from the start. This makes a big difference in the strength of your hive. The more brood that can be produced, the greater the numbers of bees in the colony, the more foragers it can send out to gather and produce the food that it needs. The more bees in your colony, the better it can prepare for winter, and the better it can insulate itself against the cold.
5. Prevent your bees going into swarm mode. When bees prepare to cast off a swarm, production of new brood is halted, and resources are taken away from food collection to preparation for expansion.
6. Open the brood nest. Bees are prone to building a honey dome above them and this can become a barrier and limit the space that your queen bee has to work with. You need to monitor it and add empty drawn comb to give your bees more room for brood expansion.
7. During warm winter days, check on your bees. When winter is particularly harsh, one of the things you need to watch out for is moisture accumulating inside your hive box. Moisture happens because the temperature outside is far lower than the temperature inside the box. Cold moisture dripping on the bees will hurt bees because they can't effectively stay warm with cold water dripping on them. One way to prevent this is by insulating only the top of your hive box just before winter.