Bees feeling the sting of winter

By Linda Harper, The Honeybee Conservancy

January 7, 2014

The honeybee colony has a remarkable capacity to adapt itself to great extremes in climate conditions any time of the year. Care for your bees as you would any other treasured pet. How you prepare your hives for winter can determine survival or loss. With proper care and conditioning bees will stay warm and alive in any temperature.

Bees die in the winter due to many factors; starvation, low population, inadequate supplies of honey and pollen, disease, and being queenless. Nosema and dysentery can claim substantial losses among the colony during the winter, especially in very cold temperatures where bees are confined to the hive and cannot fly to eliminate their waste. When a bee cannot leave the hive because outside conditions are too harsh, they are forced to discharge feces in the hive. Normally bees will not alleviate themselves inside the hive. Causes of dysentery include bad food and feces in the hive. Certain honey varieties are not good wintering food including mint, unripe or fermented honey and honey with excess moisture.

Before the winter hits, your colony must be strong in numbers and have enough honey stores to last the winter. The hive will also need upward ventilation, easy communication from comb to comb, water, and all the hive entrances must be sheltered from piercing winds.

If you haven’t done so, here are some suggestions. If high winds are a problem you may consider adding a skirt around the base of your hives to reduce drafts. Although you want adequate ventilation, you don’t want your hive sitting in a wind tunnel. Ventilation is a must year round; in through the bottom and out the top, and think about providing a wind break. If moisture is a problem, add a quilt box.

High winds can cause major damage to your hive so use heavy stones or a tie down strap to secure the top. If severe cold temperatures prevail, wrap the hive with tar paper or insulation, just don’t forget the ventilation. Tar paper costs about $1.50 per hive, a dead out will expound that cost many times over.

The Honeybee Conservancy is here to help. You can contact us by writing to: 5711 County Road 109, Mount Gilead, 43338 or call 419.947.9436