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After the Honey is Pulled: Preparing Your Hive for Winter

You had a honey harvest. Your equipment is still sticky from the mess, and you're tired from the lifting, uncapping, spinning, filtering, pouring. Your tea is the sweetest it's been since this time last year. You might be desperate for a break from the bees, but this is a critical time for the hive. Here's what we do in the week following our honey harvest to give our bees the best chance to survive a long northern winter.



Step 1: Assess Hive Strength


The week after pulling honey is the perfect time to do a deep inspection on each of your hives. Here's what you want to see:

  • At least 4 frames of brood in mixed stages

  • Your queen in good shape

  • Eggs

  • No signs of disease (perforated brood caps, dead larvae, deformed wings)

  • Plenty of food stores (pollen and honey)

What if my queen is gone? If your queen is missing, you have two choices. You can either combine the hive with a stronger hive that has a queen, or you can try to find a mated queen to buy and introduce.


What if I don't have enough brood? If you have some eggs and brood but not as much as you'd like, you can feed 1:1 syrup for a week or two to see if the queen starts laying again. She will often stop laying when the natural nectar sources dry up.


What if my hive has very little pollen or honey? Feed, feed, feed! See below!





This is a textbook fall brood frame. There is still some mixed age brood in the centre of the frame, surrounded in the corners by some pollen/bee bread and honey in the corners.







Step 2: Test and Treat for Varroa Mites


Your hive has mites. Unless you are reading this in Australia, I say that with confidence. And mites are the single biggest cause of winter hive mortality.


To test your mite load, you can use either an alcohol wash or sugar shake method. Refer to the resources published by the Honey Bee Health Coalition for the best advice regarding varroa treatment.


Personally, we test using an alcohol wash, and treat seasonally regardless of our mite load. This fall we are using Apivar strips as we find it easy on the bees and effective. We follow up with a treatment of Oxalic Acid in November once the hive is broodless.


What's with the tape? We use it to seal up any cracks between boxes when bees or wasps could enter the hive. One small crack is all it takes to set off a robbing frenzy.


Step 3: Feed


We feed our bees in the fall for three reasons, and none of those reasons is because we took too much honey.


  1. Feeding 1:1 syrup can help prolong the queen's laying. The longer she keeps laying, the shorter time the last round of bees (her winter bees) need to survive until spring.

2. Feeding after we remove the honey supers also helps ensure that the bees are storing food closer to the brood nest as the nest contracts so it's nice and accessible for the winter. For this we feed 2:1 so that it is quicker for them to process and store.


3. Feeding during the fall dearth also helps prevent robbing. Well fed hives won't go looking for weaker hives to rob.


We also feed each hive 2 pollen patties to ensure that there is still pollen left in the hive for spring after the winter bees have been raised.


When should I stop feeding? Your bees will stop taking syrup down when the daytime temperatures no longer reach 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees farenheit).


Feeding Hack: Mix your feed all at once in a 5 gallon bucket so that you have it ready to refill your hive as needed. To mix 1:1, fill the bucket roughly halfway with sugar, then top with hot tap water (no need to boil) and mix (use a mud mixer on a drill if you have one!). To mix 2:1, simply fill the bucket approximately 2/3 with sugar and then add water.




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