February 21, 2024

As winter approaches, it’s crucial to prioritize the well-being of your bee colony. Proactive planning and protective measures against the cold are essential to safeguard your hive and guarantee sufficient food supply for your bees. Continue reading to discover effective strategies for maintaining the health of your honeybees throughout the winter season.

During the winter, honeybees face increased vulnerability. Fortifying your beehives for the colder months is a relatively simple task, yet immensely beneficial for your bee colonies. They will undoubtedly benefit from every bit of support you provide.

Move the Apiaries to a Warmer Spot

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One of the easiest ways to help your bees keep the hive warm during winter weather is to move the hives to a warmer spot. Look for an area that has low foot traffic but plenty of sunlight on sunny days.

Secure the Hives Against High Winds

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If you live in an area with frequent winter storms, secure your hives against strong winds. Use rope, straps, or bricks to tie or weigh down the hives so they won’t topple with gusts. It’s not likely your beehive will survive being knocked over in frigid weather, so make sure their home is secure.

Set Up a Wind Breaker

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Setting up wind breakers — physical barriers that will keep your apiaries from facing the brunt of cold winds — offers your bees several benefits. For starters, they’re another way to protect your hives from strong gusts that may tip them over. And while the buffers won’t generate any warmth, they will help the hives retain heat by shielding the boxes from freezing air currents. When setting up a shield, it’s also a good idea to check over your hives for cracks and holes that may let in cold air and moisture. Seal these up to offer the hive the most protection.

Add Reducers and Remove Excluders

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While on the subject of reducing the flow of cold air into the beehive, let’s discuss the hive entrance. During warmer months, you likely have a larger entrance so that many bees can freely enter and exit at the same time. In cold weather, you should add reducers to hive entrances. The bees won’t be leaving the hive as much, except for cleansing flights, so minimizing this opening will keep cold air (and pests like wasps and mice) out of the nest. At the same time, remember to remove excluders you may have within the beehive. If you leave these in place, the queen will not be able to move with her colony, which will result in her death and the death of the hive.

Ensure Good Ventilation

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Drilling ventilation holes or propping up your hive cover by tilting it back or using shims will improve the air flow for your bees. This may seem counterintuitive considering the freezing temperatures, but it’s actually essential for maintaining the health of your colony. Honey bees will have little interest in leaving the hive during cold weather.

Instead, they’ll stay inside and a part of their winter cluster, furiously pumping their flight muscles so their fluttering wings can keep the hive heated. This process will generate heat, but it will also cause condensation to build due to the carbon dioxide the bee cluster breathes out. Dampness in the beehive is bad for a variety of reasons, but in winter, it can chill the bees and potentially kill them.

Wrap Your Beehive

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There is some debate as to whether it’s a good idea to wrap your hive for the winter. Wrapping involves covering your hives with black roofing felt or another insulating material. On one hand, the extra insulation will help your bees stay warmer by trapping heated air and offering another layer of protection from icy drafts.

However, if you don’t wrap your hives correctly, the wraps can easily trap excess moisture from snow and condensation — and as you know, too much moisture can spell disaster in freezing weather. While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether a wrap is appropriate or safe, another option is to create an insulating outer shell for your hives.

Make it from wood and leave ample space around the apiaries, and you’ll provide the bees with an extra layer of insulation but also plenty of air flow.

Reconfigure the Beehives

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As the size of your colony is greatly reduced during the colder season, you should remove unused boxes from the hive. Doing so will keep your bees from wasting energy to keep unnecessary space heated.

While reconfiguring to remove extra hive bodies, you should also take a look at your colony’s honey stores. While honeybees typically do a good job of organizing their nest, there may be instances when moving honey frames will help them move more efficiently through winter.

For example, if you have top bars hives, you should ensure that the honey harvest is situated on one side of the hive. That way, the bees will move in one direction while consuming the honey stores, rather than splitting down the middle to go in different directions.

Combining small or weak beehives

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Small beehives may not be able to survive winter, even if they’re populated with healthy bees. This is because small colonies simply can’t generate the heat necessary to stay warm all through winter.

If you’re facing this scenario, consider combining a weak hive with a stronger one or combining two smaller colonies into one hive. When combining beehives, you can either remove the weaker queen or let the colonies decide which is the healthy queen.

Supplement Food Stores

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When your colony’s efforts throughout the year fall short and they don’t have enough food to feed on in the winter months, you need to provide emergency feeding to help them survive. In late fall, start with a sugar syrup.

When the colder weather moves in, switch to fondant, which you can buy or make yourself. You can also offer grease patties that have the extra benefit of controlling varroa mites. Also keep in mind that if you provide food for your colony because they didn’t have enough honey, you must continue to do so through early spring or until they’re able to leave the nest to find pollen and nectar.

Monitor, but Don’t Bother, the Hive

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As tempting as it may be for beekeepers to constantly check in on their colony during winter, it’s best to mostly leave them alone. Remember that every time you open the beehive to look in, you’re exposing your honeybees to chilly temperatures and diminishing their hard work of keeping the hive toasty.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore your colony through winter. Instead, check on the hive periodically, preferably when the weather is warmer. Take this time to provide more food if the cluster needs it, clear dead bees from the hive entrance, make sure the box is secure against wind, and ensure there is not excessive condensation.


Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.