Preparing the bees for winter

The main causes of winter losses are queenless colonies, starvation, varroa and damp in the hives. All of these are within your control. Your bees are a valuable asset, and they deserve your best attention.  You should aim to lose no more than one hive in 10 in winter. Cleaning out dead hives in spring is dismal work.

Aim to complete your winter preparation by late September.  Use our Winter Prep record card to keep track of your preparation. See our webpage Beekeeping/hive records. Don’t try to rely on your memory. These notes apply to hives that are not moved to the heather in August.

Step 1

Mid August. Check that the colony has a laying queen. Look for eggs, larvae and sealed brood. If there is no queen, unite the colony to a queenright colony, or call for help. Your colony should have at least five deep frames of bees. I winter my hives on a brood and a half and one part-filled super of honey, with no queen excluder.

Step 2

End of August. Remove any part-filled supers for re-fitting later. Check the weight of the hive by hefting, lifting one side from the stand. The hive should feel as if it is nailed to the hive stand. I leave all the honey in the brood box and half brood box for the bees.

If your hives feel heavy enough without feeding, go straight to step 3. A colony will need the equivalent of about 18kg of honey or sugar syrup to survive the winter. Any late honey stored in September is a bonus. Feed any light hives with a rapid feeder, preferably a Miller or Ashforth tray feeder. These allow you to feed up to 10 litres of syrup at a time. Winter feeding should take only a few days. Your hive stands must be level if using a tray feeder, or bees may drown in pools of syrup. Make the syrup with one electric kettle full of hot water to 3 x 1kg bags of sugar. You can buy sugar in 15 x 1kg packs from Bookers, Llandudno Junction. Contact us for the Conwy BKA Bookers membership number. Reduce the hive entrance when feeding, and feed in the evening to prevent robbing.

Aim to finish winter-feeding by early September. Feeding in early September while the weather is still warm will stimulate the queen to continue laying for a while. If you delay feeding until October, the weather may be cold, the bees will not take the feed down, and the feed will just go bad.

Step 3

Remove the empty feeder when the hive weight is OK. Place an eke, a 25mm high square wooden frame, on the top brood box. Place a tray of Apiguard on the top brood frames, open side up, and refit the crown board on the eke, with the feed holes sealed.

If using an open mesh floor, fit the mite catch tray and put a square of old carpet or a slab of expanded polystyrene or Kingspan on the crown board. This stays on all winter.

Aim to fit your first tray of Apiguard by early September. You want a hive full of healthy bees going into the winter. If you wait until October, it’s too late. You will have a hive full of bees damaged by varroa, and very little new brood to replace them.

Step 4

After 10 days, remove the mite catch tray and note if the mite drop is low, medium or high, compared to your other hives. Scrape the catch tray clean and refit it.
Check if the Apiguard tray has been emptied. If yes, fit the second tray. Leave first tray in place, to remind you that you have fitted the second tray. If no, wait a further four days and then fit second tray.

Step 5

After two weeks, remove both aluminium Apiguard trays for recycling. Scrape any remaining Apiguard onto the top frames. Remove the eke and the mite catch tray. Clean and store them for winter.
Note: If there is a late flow of honey you may find that the eke has been filled with wild comb and honey. Remove this.

Step 6

Optional, same day as step 5. Fit a super of drawn combs, including any part-filled combs or combs wet from extracting, to store late season honey from Himalayan balsam or ivy. No queen excluder is needed in the winter.

Step 7

Remove entrance block and fit a mouse guard. If using a wooden floor, open up the feed holes in the crown board to increase ventilation.

Now you can relax and go on holiday!

Compiled by Peter McFadden
Updated August 2017.

16 Responses to Preparing the bees for winter

  1. Alberto Erulin says:

    Hi,
    I left two supers with honey for the bees this winter, is that excessive in terms of space and heat that needs to be generated to keep the colony warm. I’m also intending to put the super(s) below the brood asap, would you please let me know your thoughts on these issues. Many thanks,

    Alberto

    • Trevor Smith says:

      I have also left 2 supers on, with some honey and have been feeding sugar syrup. Would I be better off with just 1 super?
      Trevor

      • secretary says:

        Thanks for your message Trevor. I would leave both supers in place, without a queen excluder. Add the QEx in the spring, when the queen has started to lay eggs in the top super. Shake the bees off the frames in the top box and add the QEx. The bees will go though th QEx to cover the new brood.

      • Peter Thomson says:

        Hi Trevor,
        as a newcomer how did you manage to feed with the supers in place. Did you put the feeder onto the top of the supers? I tried this and the bees would not go through the supers to feed? I had to take the supers off with the feed on top of the brood box. Not sure what to do.

  2. Hi, I am setting up the website for our branch, Tiverton Beekeepers, could I ask you if I could reproduce the Preparing Bees For Winter notes on our website please? I would of course acknowledge that the document was reproduced with your kind permission, – if granted.
    Look forward to hearing from you.
    Regards Jon.

    • secretary says:

      Thanks for your message Jonathan. Feel free to reproduce my wintering notes on your website, and the winter prep card, with acknowledgment to Conwy Beekeepers. We’d welcome any feedback from your members.

  3. Jasmine Davies says:

    I have a queen with small colony in the super with very little activity in the brood box. I am concerned that they will be too cold with an empty hive beneath them for the winter. I have put in some insulated frames to reduce the chill factor but am still concerned. I am feeding them with polline and sugar. Any suggestions to see them safely through the winter.

    Thanks. Jasmine

    • secretary says:

      Thanks for your message Jasmine. I suggest you just leave the bees as they are. Where are you? Here in north Wales most of us finished feeding the bees in September. It’s too cold now for the bees to take down the feed. You should fit a mouseguard and make sure the hive is secure. Cold is not a problem for the bees. I don’t think the empty brood box below the colony will cause any problem. Good luck for next year.

  4. Sue Childerley says:

    I have done the same this year and it is good to read that i am not alone!- not intentionally but excuses aside and weather permitting I have 2 supers in my WBC. Could you offer any tips for applying the oxyalic acid in this situation?

    • secretary says:

      Thanks for your message Sue. I expect you will find the bees are only in one or two of the three boxes when you come to do the oxalic acid treatment, ie, brood box plus one super and one super without any bees. You can just squirt oxalic acid where you see seams of bees. Hope the bees winter well.

  5. Rowena Hall says:

    I have found this 10 step guide very informative; but I have a query in relation to a poly hive which has just a small colony in (I had a problem late in the season after using MAQs) and had to use a spare queen. I have filled the hive with frames with a dummy board keeping the main area tight. They also, on checking today, are bringing stores and pollen into the super directly above the brood. I am also feeding Neopoll and small amounts of thick syrup.
    My question is do I also fill the super with frames, move the QE and then let them move as they wish to get stores. There seems to be a lack of advice relating to polyhives as I have noticed a real difference in the bees compared to my other hives. I cannot move this single hive and unite due to movement restrictions in the area.

    • CBK secretary says:

      Thanks for your message. Bees are reckoned to winter better in a poly hive than timber, because of the better insulation.
      Is the hive on a brood box/queen excluder/super? The super should be filled with drawn comb. Good that the bees are bringing in stores and pollen. I suggest you remove the queen excluder. It isn’t needed now or in the winter. Give the bees the run of both boxes. Hope this helps.

  6. Lana says:

    Hi Peter
    I am new to beekeeping. I went on a course for natural beekeeping. I think I have a very small colony as there are only 4 frames that have bees on them with uncapped honey, but they seem happy enough. I am worried about losing them over winter if not all frames in brood box are full. I am feeding them mush at the moment (left over honey. Comb). I am thinking of feeding sugar syrup too and using icing sugar for varroa. Will they be warm enough to last the winter? Thanks in advance for your advice.

    • CBK secretary says:

      Hello Lana, thanks for your message. I suggest you feed them with sugar syrup as soon as possible. The weather this week looks quite warm, and they should store the feed OK. As soon as it gets cold they will stop taking down the feed. The feed may encourage the queen to increase laying for a short while. Put some top insulation on the crown board, eg. a couple of pieces piece of carpet. Cold doesn’t usually kill bees. Good luck. Peter McFadden

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