Winter Hive Management (Nate Muller)

These winter hive management tips were discussed at the Dec. 10th club meeting.

One time checklist :

1. Liquid food should be off/out of the hive. If a hive is underweight - use sugar or fondant bricks / AP23 patties.

2. Provide a windbreak for hives that are at risk for high winds.

3. Remove robbing screens - at this point in the year robbing is minimal and they interfere with removal of dead bees.

4. Ensure top vent is open.

5. Provide a way to absorb moisture, prevent dripping on the bees:

    a. Newspaper on the underside of the inner cover often suffices

    b. Homasote boards and quilt boxes also absorb moisture and provide additional insulation.

    c. Sugar shims absorb moisture.

    d. Forward tilt of hive allows moisture to collect and roll forward, down the walls of the boxes.

Ongoing Checklist:

6. Ensure adequate food supply

    a. Honey bees should have access to capped honey at all times.

    b. Honey bees require little protein in the broodless winter period.

    c. Lift the side of the hive to gauge the weight of the remaining food.

7. Locate and track cluster position

    a. If reasonably warm (above freezing) - crack the top or boxes quickly to locate the cluster.

    b. Cluster should be low in the hive.

    c. If the cluster is at the very top of the hive, ensure adequate food stores remain or supply sugar bricks/fondant.

    d. If the temperature is too low to quickly inspect you can locate the cluster using a mechanics stethoscope or thermal camera.

8. Remove dead bees at entrance

9. Ensure top vent is exposed

    a. Top vent can be blocked by the telescoping cover, do something to prevent this from happening (I almost lost my favourite queen this way last year)


1. Broodless period - Late winter is where the quantity of capped brood is usually the lowest.

    a. Queen will stop laying as early as mid October.

    b. Depending on temperature, food stores, cluster size, hive may never be truly broodless.

    c. Expect queen to start or increase laying sometime after the winter solstice (Dec 21)

    d. Excellent time to apply oxalic acid drip or vapor to knock down “phoretic” mites.

2. Avoid disturbing or forcing the cluster to break.

    a. Unless you have a sustained warm period, do not inspect frames in the winter.

    b. Hive operations, such as feeding bricks, should be done as quickly and smoothly as possible.

    c. Too late to unite weak hives.

3. Prepare late winter/early spring food that contains a protein source.

4. Insulation is typically not necessary in our area.

    a. Insulation can interfere with hive warming during the the daytime when the hive naturally warms

    b. Some studies have shown that tar-paper (roofing felt) wrap provides sufficient insulation and also the black surface provides significant heat leading to earlier spring buildup.

5. Reversing hive bodies can be done given a warm day (55 or higher and no wind) and sufficient stores in the box that will wind up at the top.