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Winter Beekeeping on the Homestead
Keeping bees is something a lot of homesteaders get into. Whether mason bees or honey bees, they provide a number of fantastic benefits including pollination for your flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. While bees can keep themselves somewhat warm in the wintertime, if you live in a place where winter weather can get very bitterly cold there are some steps you can take to help your bees make it through the winter and come out the other side healthy and ready to buzz off. If you’re interested in getting started with beekeeping check out this hive kit from Tractor Supply – it comes with everything you need (except the bees) to get started this spring!
Caring for the Hives in Winter Beekeeping
- Start by moving your bees to a place where they’ll have full sun. Hopefully there is also a wind break or you’ll have to build one to protect them. High winds can knock hives over and this can kill off your bees.
- Make sure your bees have adequate ventilation but not too much ventilation. This can be one of the trickier parts of winter beekeeping. The best way is to prop up the lid just a hair to give them ventilation but don’t prop it up too much! You’ll also still want to close up most of the opening they use to leave without closing it entirely. They need to be able to leave on a clear day, but stay warm on the cold, snowy and rainy ones.
- Reduce the size of your hives so that your bees don’t have so much space to warm. In the winter they will decrease in number and don’t need so much space. The smaller the hive, the less they will have to keep warm.
- In super cold places invest in a hive cover to help add extra insulation as part of your winter beekeeping. Make sure the cover is secure so it doesn’t fly off in a storm. You can wrap or you can create an insulation box. Insulation boxes are a better, and healthier way of protecting your hives as wrapping can cause a build up of moisture that will cause problems.
- Practice good hive maintenance on calm, clear days. Make sure dead bees and debris are cleared away so your bees can leave when days are good enough for flying
Protecting Your Bees During Winter
- Make sure the honey your bees will eat over winter is in the right spot. You want it all in one side of the hive so the bee cluster moves in one direction and doesn’t split off.
- If your hive is small, wasn’t able to put enough honey aside, or gets through it too quickly, plan to feed your bees. They can’t feed themselves during winter. Two common options are grease patties or fondant, both of which provide good, necessary food.
- Don’t bother your bees, but DO check on them occasionally to ensure they do not need more food. This is a key part of winter beekeeping. Check on them by quickly lifting the lid, checking on them, replacing food if needed, and then go.
- Avoid adding pollen unless you are commercializing your bees! According to Bee and Bloom, pollen is used to stimulate brood production which most hobby beekeepers do not need or want to do unless they are sending them out for commericial agricultural reasons. Check out Bee and Bloom for more info: Here!
- Remove bee excluders so that your queen doesn’t die. If she’s excluded from the cluster she will die and take the hive with her.
- Combine weak hives into one strong hive but only as long as both hives are healthy.
Getting Ready for the Spring
- Take this time to clean, repair, store equipment or replace equipment, and make sure it’s ready for the next year. It’s also time to buy new supplies and explore new bee-related crafts.