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May 26, 2022 3 min read

When we over winter bees it is important to prepare the hives well in advance while the weather is still fine. 

The pre-winter inspection should be carried out in April or the beginning of May at the latest. Try to pick a warm sunny day to carry out the inspection and work quickly to avoid chilling the brood.

What To Look For:

  • Check to ensure there is plenty of honey for the bees over winter but remove any excess boxes so the bees have less space they need to keep warm. , you can also use a hive mat if you have one, this should be placed on top of the frames to conserve heat. 
  • In determining how much honey to leave on a hive colonies should be reduced to two boxes with the honey super nearly full of honey. Or at least 5 frames.  If extracting honey in autumn it’s important not to take too much. Remember, this is what the bees will be using to survive. The honey not used by the bees over winter can still be extracted in spring. 
  •  If the colony is on the weaker side, you can add frames of brood if you have them or alternatively you can over-winter the colony in a single brood box. Each colony should have at least three or four frames full of honey. If you are unsure It is always better to leave too much honey rather than too little. Always avoid feeding liquid honey back to bees, because it could be carrying disease organisms, such as AFB.
  • During the winter months, more colonies die from starvation than from any other cause.
  •  If feeding is necessary it is best to feed sugar syrup which you can make up by mixing sugar with hot water at a ratio of two sugar to one of hot water and giving it a good stir. If this method is selected, it is better to feed in bulk before winter than to feed in small lots during winter. Only use white table sugar. Brown, raw, or any other sugars are not suitable and will lead to digestive problems in the bees.
  • Up to 10 kg of sugar may be fed to each hive. Avoid feeding small amounts as this tends to stimulate the Queen to lay, a situation to avoid at this time of the year.
  • The syrup can be fed using a suitable hive feeder, feeding around 2litres per week, only feed the amount the bees can finish; you don’t want excess syrup lying around. A hive top feeder or frame feeder is ideal. Talk to “Beekeeping Gear” for suggestions.
  • Also, during the Pre winter inspection, it is important to check the health of the bees by checking each frame for signs of disease.
  • Also, check that the Queen is present and still healthy, but be aware that as winter draws on the queen will often stop laying for a while
  • Check the strength of the hive and if the colony has insufficient bees, for example, if less than six frames of bees to maintain a cluster they will have difficulty preserving the temperature in the hive and may easily succumb to the cold and die
  • If any hives are weak you can strengthen them by joining them with another weak colony (one queen must go) or by transferring a frame or two of brood with bees; make sure you don’t take the Queen; into the weaker colony, but ensure you don’t seriously weaken the hive from which the brood is removed. 
  • It is best not to open the hives between May to September because the weather is usually too cold.
  • It’s always a good idea to check on the progress of colonies during the winter, you can do this by tilting or lifting the back of the hives to check their weight. 
  • It is an advantage to reduce the hive entrance to 50–75 mm so that weaker hives can guard their entrance more effectively against active robber bees at this time of the year. Also, make sure the entrance is kept clear of weeds 
  • Location: Locate your hives in a dry sunny area, preferably with a north-east aspect and protected from prevailing winds. This will ensure the maximum number of cleansing flights, which will help to keep nosema at a low level. Damp shady locations should be avoided.
  • Bees confined for long periods tend to foul their hive, leading to high levels of nosema
  • Small hive beetles can be a problem, especially when the bees are not so active, so when doing your prewinter inspection it is a good time to install hive beetle protection such as APITHOR or what is commonly known as a “Silver Bullet”. 

Talk to Beekeeping Gear if you need more information.