Winter prep

Connie and I went to the Howard County Beekeepers meeting where Jerry Fischer, the Maryland State Apiary Inspector was the speaker. He covered preparing the bees for winter and he mentioned a few interesting things, italics are my additions:

1. You may know that the winter cluster of bees consists of bees huddled over frames of brood and honey, which usually spans between two hive bodies. If that is the case, when you hear “don’t break the cluster”, it means don’t reverse the two hive bodies as you would in spring. I would assume that this also means if your bees are confined to one box then don’t move the frames the bees are on.

2. Cluster temperature (when not over brood) is usually 25 to 30° above the outside temperature.

3. In our area, you can assume that the bees created after September 1st are the winter bees. All of the bees born by the end of August will be dead by Christmas.

4. They recommend one deep of honey/sugar syrup or 2 mediums for the winter.

5. Every gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup equals 7 lbs of winter stores. That makes sense as one gallon of water is 8 lbs, adding 10 lbs sugar increases the volume to 2 gallons and the bees still have to drive off the moisture to cap it.

6. Bees seldom consume more than 15 lbs of food between November and December. After the winter solstice is when consumption increases rapidly as the queen starts to lay again.

7. When the outside temperatures are greater than 47°, the bees can move on the honey and change their location. Lower temperatures trap them in place.

8. Bees CANNOT cluster on foundation, it must at least be drawn comb. So for those of you who have just started beekeeping, make sure you leave the bees only with drawn comb and not unworked foundation. Remove the undrawn frames and put nothing in their place, just make sure the frames left are in a group with no empty space in between them.

9. There are approximately 2800 packages sent to Maryland beekeepers every spring. Take care of your bees and you won’t be one of them.

10. Black locust and tulip poplar are the major flows in our area; having drawn comb for the honey supers will greatly increase your honey harvest.

11. To be a good beekeeper you need to understand the biology and habitat of the honey bee.

So how is my winter prep going? I have the four hives and they all appear to be coming along very nicely.

Melissa, the orange hive is 2 deeps and one medium, there is one unworked frame of foundation which I expect to be drawn out this week.

Demeter, the purple hive is two deeps, one undrawn frame of foundation

Peony, the pink hive is one deep and one medium, there are 2 undrawn frames in the deep

Aphrodite, the teal hive is 2 deeps with most of the frames drawn (about 8 were drawn in 2 weeks!).

I did not treat for mites this year, I hope that wasn’t a mistake, I’ll talk about that another time.

Since the end of July I have fed them 218 lbs of sugar. I was mixing 8 lbs of water and 10 lbs of sugar, I have now thickened it to 6 lbs of water and 10 lbs of sugar. I stopped feeding the purple and orange hives and as of this weekend I am just feeding the 2 new hives. The pink hive took 2 quarts in one day, I added more today and will keep filling it as needed. The teal hive actually strengthened quite a bit in the past 2 weeks, I was pleasantly surprised.

I hope everyone’s winter preparations are going well and we all come out of the winter with live bees! It’s getting surprisingly cold here for Maryland.



  1. Great tips on winterizing! This is my first year and I have just one hive. We are in New Hampshire so mouse guards are on and we have drilled a hole in the upper hive body for cleansing flights if the snow gets too deep. I also have the hive wrap ready for when the temps dip and stay low. Will be installing extra insulation under the cover as well. I have been feeding like crazy and the ladies have every frame of the medium body filled and capped with lovely golden honey that I hope will help them get through the winter. Thanks and good luck!

      • I think I will be able to get to them in the snow. This is my first year of beekeeping so I’m sure I will have to make changes along the way. I follow your progress with great interest!

  2. “Remove the undrawn frames and put nothing in their place, just make sure the frames left are in a group with no empty space in between them.”

    I’m surprised by this advice. I would be inclined to put the drawn out frames together, then a dummy board to keep the cluster warm and the undrawn frames after that. Surely having undrawn frames is warmer than a gap? And my bees would make brace comb in that space at the moment. Everyone does things differently though I guess.

    • Yes, all of the drawn frames are to be together but no undrawn frames at all (meaning frames with foundation). We don’t use dummy boards, but bees would try to cluster on foundation and fail apparently. Burr comb would be more likely during the spring when the bees are into expanding, or if you’re feeding. But if you’re not feeding and you have foundation, you are not supposed to leave it. I’ll know this weekend if my bees have drawn out their foundation…

      • Hmm. I’ve never been in the situation of having undrawn foundation this late on in the year luckily. Presumably it could happen if a beekeeper had housed a swarm in late summer and they hadn’t built up enough to fill the whole hive yet. But then maybe they’d be better off overwintering in a nuc then having all that empty space?

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