The Importance of Winter Hive Checks

The Importance of Winter Hive Checks

Cory Marchand

Today, December 29th, we had the good fortune of a nice warm and sunny day, which is a rare event here in Western Washington. As beekeepers, winter is that time of year where we do a little less in our beehives and focus more on the coming warm months. That downtime doesn't mean that we don't go into our hives, however, our checks need to be timed and deliberate with an express goal in mind.

Winter check focus.

Our check today was focused on three things, clearing the entrance of dead bees, replacing any wet, moldy moisture-wicking material and checking/replacing winter feed. While the weather is perfect for quick checks it is not warm enough to expose frames by pulling them out or leaving the cover off for too long. It is important when it's cold outside that you work quickly, shoot for no more than 3 minutes with the lid off.

Clearing the entrance.

During the winter months, the honeybees cluster up into a tight "ball" formation in order to keep each other warm, keep the queen warm and fed. As the weather gets colder, the outer layers of honeybees "sheds" and fall down to the bottom of the hive. Over time, this shed creates a problem for the bees as the entrance can easily get clogged up. 

You don't need anything fancy to clean out the entrance, a strong stick or even the entrance reducer works great.

Thankfully, in this hive, we didn't encounter a large volume of die-off. You can still see, in the photos below, that we were able to clean a significant amount of dead bees from the screen bottom board.


Checking feed stores, replacing moisture control measures.

Our next step is to check the current amount of feed, replace any lost feed, add winter pollen patties and replace our burlap moisture control if need be. Like we stated above, we want to work quickly once the cover is off.

The burlap in this hive was still nice and dry and free of mold. We also see under the burlap that the honeybees have chewed through the wax paper and a significant amount of the candy board provided back in November. We will not need to replace the burlap this time but the honeybees will need feed.

We added dry table sugar using the "mountain cap" method and sprayed the sugar with a mixture of water and "Pro-Health" on top of the wax paper to help turn the sugar into a "candy", making sure not to overspray into the hive or get the bees wet. We also added a winter pollen patty to the hive, this will help provide the honeybees the early nutrition for rearing brood when the bees are stuck inside during the colder parts of winter.

Closing up and taking notes.

Make some notes on the amount of feed that the bees have already consumed, any changes that you may have noticed, the amount of dead bees that you cleared and how much feed that you added, this will help guide you for your next check. Take this time, and add a calendar reminder for 3 to 4 weeks from now to ensure that you don't miss the next check.