How to Keep a Beehive in the Winter
What goes on in a beehive during winter? The queen is surrounded by thousand of her workers, kept warm in the midst of the winter cluster.
The winter cluster starts in the brood chamber when ambient temperatures reach 54 to 57 degrees F. When cold weather comes, the cluster forms in the center of the two hive bodies. It covers the top bars of the frames in the lower chamber and extends over and beyond the bottom bars of the frames in the food chamber.
Although the temperature outside may be freezing, the center of the winter cluster remains a constant 92 degrees F. The bees generate heat by “shivering” their wing muscles.
No drones are in the hive during winter, but some worker brood begin appearing late in the winter. Meanwhile, the bees consume about 50 to 60 pounds of honey in the hive during winter months. They eat while they are in the cluster, moving around as a cluster whenever the temperature gets above 40 to 45 degrees F. They can move to a new area of honey only when the weather is warm enough for them to break cluster.
Your winter beekeeping to-do list
Winter is the slowest season of your beekeeping cycle. You’ve already prepared your colony for the kinds of weather that your part of the world typically experiences. So, now is the time to do the following:
Monitor the hive entrance. Brush off any dead bees or snow that blocks the entrance.
Make sure the bees have enough food! The late winter and early spring are when colonies can die of starvation.
Late in the winter, on a nice, mild day when there is no wind and bees are flying, take a quick peek inside your hive. It’s best not to remove any frames. Just have a look-see under the cover. Do you see bees? They still should be in a cluster in the upper deep. Are they okay?
If you don’t notice any sealed honey in the top frames, you may need to begin some emergency feeding. But remember that once you start feeding, you cannot stop until the bees are bringing in their own pollen and nectar.
Clean, repair, and store your equipment for the winter.
Attend bee club meetings, and read all those back issues of your favorite bee journals.
Order package bees and equipment (if needed) from a reputable supplier.
Try a bee-related hobby. The winter is a good time for making beeswax candles, brewing some mead, and dreaming of spring!
Your winter time commitment for your hive
Not much is going on with bees during winter. They are in their winter cluster, toasty and warm inside the hive. Figure on spending two to three hours repairing stored equipment, plus whatever time you may spend on bee-related hobbies or attending bee-club meetings. You might even decorate your hive for the holidays. Just don’t cover the ventilation holes!