There are four key requirements to get bees successfully through the winter, (called “overwintering.”) They are:
1. Sufficient stores
2. Enough bees to keep the colony alive until Spring
3. Appropriate accommodations and
4. A bit of luck
The last two winters in SW Michigan exhausted any luck … but we still managed to come through with a respectable number of colonies in our apiaries. I believe it is because we have, knock-on-wood, generally figured out the first three requirements.
There are plenty of opinions and lots of advice on what to do. Our “procedure” reviews what works for us, based on our ever-evolving (since 2008) approach to successful overwintering. The document that outlines our approach is largely aimed at newbees and those with first year colonies.
Before you check out our procedure on how to overwinter, it is helpful to understand what happens in the hive in the winter. Some key events:
- Drones kicked out (August–October) – so if you see lots of dead drones in front of the hive–or drones confused about why their sisters won’t let them in–don’t be alarmed
- Queen slows down laying, stops about December
- Bees form a cluster about the queen, keeping her at 88 – low 90s all the time
- Heat is generated by shivering, leading to warm moisture
- Warm moist air rises, softening the honey above, but when that warm moist air hits the colder top of the hive, it condenses and drops back down. Therefore, the hive needs adequate ventilation to keep it dry in there and / or a way of handling that moisture.
So, given what happens in the hive, what should a beekeeper do?
My document ‘Overwintering Overview’ is available at my website, www.hubbardhive.com, under the ‘Publications’ tab. It outlines what we do now, and in October, and in November.
I SO SO SO apologize for making you go there for this information, but I’m unable to get that document to load here in a coherent, well-formatted way. (My computer skills are somewhat dinosaur-esque.)
Whether you follow what we outline or not, please bee a beekeeper, not a beehaver. Figure out how to support your bees through the winter, because we need bees to survive.