This post is also available in: Spanish
In this article we want to present our method of preparing the hives for winter. As it’s the case with anything related to beekeeping, there are multiple approaches to a problem and there simply isn’t a right one. Having said that, there are few key aspects that are vital regardless of your solution. Here the three most important ones for successful overwintering:
1. The colony’s health
Varroa, Nosema Apis and Acarapis Woodi management are the main issues. As we already mentioned in previous articles, in order to keep Varroa and Acarapis Woodi under control, we used Formic Acid and Amitraz and for Nosema Apis we use 5 to 6 Liters of syrup during the last feeding sessions (in order to be consumed at the beginning of the winter). A little side-note: in our opinion, based on feedback from beekeepers in Romania and the rest of Europe, there is a very large number of bee colonies where Nosema Apis and Nosema Ceranae spors are way over the limit. Moreover, in the EU nosemosis was declared a common disease and it’s not even mentioned on European health certificates. It is a sad reality. It was a cop out solution to a very serious problem that should have been approached differently. It is now up to the beekeeper to decide what to do.
What we can say based on our experience is that a bee colony that overwinters on 3 to 4 frames and wasn’t infected with Nosema will outnumber a bee colony that enters the winter with twice the number of bees, but the amount of Nosema spores in this colony are over the accepted limit. We were always very vocal about this problem and we will continue to insist on this subject that can make the difference between beekeeping success and failure.
2. Food quantity and quality
There isn’t much to be said about this subject, it is a known fact that there must be sufficient food reserves until Spring; we must avoid interventions during winter as much as possible. Karl Kehrle (brother Adam) used to say that food reserves should be plenty and additional feeding interventions shouldn’t be carried out until April (except for special situations). In order to ensure that the quantity of food will be sufficient, we prefer to use sugar syrup for supplementation. Honey made from sugar is often time a safer choice for overwintering; not knowing the origin and composition of honey poses a great risk as it may contain a very amount of minerals that will cause diarrhea. The drawback of using sugar syrup is that the bees will experience a somewhat higher wear, but if it’s done right and on time it really shouldn’t be a problem. An often neglected aspect is the quantity of bee bread. A great start in Spring can’t happen without adequate protein reserves. Therefore, bee bread is vital, as protein patties supplementation is delicate during Spring as the bees intestines can become overloaded. Moreover, there isn’t a supplement that can successfully replace bee bread; it can only supplement it.
3. Bee quantity and quality
Every beekeeper wants powerful and large colonies for the winter, often times neglecting another topic that is just as important: the quality of the bees. In other words, the bees that will overwinter must have their fat bodies already formed and their age must allow them to be nurse bees in the Spring. You must have seen situations where smaller colonies have more brood than other larger ones. What made the difference was the number of nurse bees, thus the age of the bee before the Winter. The bees that cannot help the colony with feeding the larvae will only marginally contribute to the overall development of that colony during Spring (in the form of maintaining the hive’s temperature). On the contrary, a colony that has plenty of nurse bees during the months of January and February will have a superior evolution.
Randy Oliver states that the best way to ensure a quality population during Spring is by preventing the bees that are about to be wintered from inverting syrup or feeding larvae. It is very difficult to find the balance between ending the brood and supplementing with syrup as there are a lot of factors at play, the main one being climate conditions. For example, the changes in weather (in Romania) during this year were difficult to predict. Even so, we consider that by having sufficient food reserves (in the form of honey and bee bread) and a population of high quality (with sufficient nurse bees), obstacles like late brood or late supplementing can be easily overcome.
In our next articles we will explore in-depth the topic of evolution and development of bee colonies during a season. It was also Randy Oliver that published a series of extremely interesting and carefully documented findings related to this subject that are worth reading. Basically, as you’ll see in the video below, our smallest colonies will be overwintered on 4 frames, the medium ones on 6 frames and the larger ones on 7 or 8 frames:
These are the most important things to consider before the winter. We won’t make any references to adding insulating layers to the hives as we do not make any changes to our hives in this regards; they remain the same during winter as they are during summer. The only difference is in the form of a grill to prevent rodents (mice) from entering the hives. It is our opinion that adding multiple layers of insulating material doesn’t do much in terms of benefits. Moreover, when not used properly, they can do more harm than good (condensation is a common problem).
We wish everyone a peaceful winter!