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Surviving Winter

BZ Honey - Our classroom hive at the shop enjoyed a couple hours of winter sunlight.

Surviving Winter in SE Texas

We had a few beekeepers who are stressed about their bees surviving winter ask us about wintering their hives at last week’s market.  Honestly, this post isn’t as timely as it could be, since the freeze has passed us, but we do still have some advice for you until we’re safely in spring temperatures.

First, don’t mess with your bees until the temperature is above 65 or 70 degrees.

We know that you’re concerned for your bees.  We are, too.  Winter is both relaxing and stressful for beekeepers.  It’s relaxing because you really shouldn’t be in your hives when it’s this cold.  Just lifting the cover off your hive will hit you with a blast of warm air that should stay in the hive instead of going away.  Pulling any frames out of your hives risks breaking a winter cluster, chilling brood, and if the weather is too cold, your bees may not be able to recover.  Winter is stressful for beekeepers because when the temperature is below 55 degrees, your bees will cluster and you won’t see any activity outside the hive.  The truth is, you may lose some colonies over winter due to starvation or mites.  The sad truth is, the ones you lose, you may not be able to do anything about it.  So, try to relax.  Wait for those sunny warm days and just look for activity from the landing board.  Most importantly, leave your bees alone until we get some weather warm enough for an inspection.

What can you do to help your bees through winter?

The most important thing you can do should’ve happened months ago.  Make sure you always leave your bees with enough stores for winter.  In SE Texas, that may just require a single deep box full of stores.  When we have hard freezes like we did this past week, your bees may need two deep boxes or if we get extended cold weather through March, then may need two deeps and a super.  We’ve learned to err on the side of caution and leave at least two deep boxes on our hives and we’ve probably advised you to do the same.  If you’ve talked with us in our store, you may remember us explaining that a double-deep hive is your goal for year 1.  That’s the reason.

What if I didn’t leave enough honey in the hive?

If you got a little excited during your fall harvest or you caught a late swarm or made a late split that just didn’t build up in time, your bees will need some help.  When it’s cold, it’s too late to just drop a feeder in the hive and give them some sugar syrup.  Bees won’t travel away from the brood nest to get syrup out of a feeder when it’s cold.  If your bees need supplemental feed during the winter, you’ll need to make some sugar blocks to place on top of the frames.  Here’s a popular method from a successful northern beekeeper, though we don’t think all the additives are necessary this far south.

Is there anything else I can do?

Be patient and wait for good weather until you open your hives.  If the hives are light and you don’t see much honey, feed your bees.  If you have supers on the hives, you probably don’t need to feed, but if the supers are empty, remove them and feed.  Do whatever you can to promote early blooms in your area, whether that’s planting citrus or just letting the dandelions hang around for a couple extra days.  Lastly, if you do lose a colony, do not that loss be in vain.  Freeze that colony’s frames as soon as possible (to kill any pest eggs) and use the frames to support your surviving colonies next year.

If you have any questions, give us a call, visit us at the market or our store, or just drop a comment below.  We can’t wait to see you again in 2018.

Matt

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