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Bee-Ginner's Guide
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Bee-Ginner's Guide

As you are getting your hive ready for winter one of the first things you will want to check is their winter food supply. Your hive should have spent most of the spring and summer foraging and have stores of honey in several frames. Well, with winter and cooler temperatures upon us, your beehives activity is about to drop drastically. The bees are about to start remaining in their hives permanently and as the temperatures drop below 55 degrees F you do not want to open up your hive. Now is the time to make sure they have enough food and, if need be, have a way to provide them more food if needed through the winter.

With your hive's first year you most likely did not extract much honey if any. You want to try and make sure your hive has at least 60-80lbs of honey stored up for the winter (roughly one Medium Super full). If it looks like they don't have enough stored there are a couple options to help:

  • If you have a second hive that seems to have amassed a larger amount of honey stores you can switch out a frame or two with the lower stocked hive.
  • If temperatures still haven't gotten below 50 degrees, you can continue to feed them sugar syrup they can drink up and store in the frames just like they would honey.

A liquid feed of 2:1 ratio sugar water can be given during the winter but there are too many issues that it can bring to the hive. In such cold temperatures you do not want to open up the hive and expose it to the bitter cold. That cancels out using internal feeders so the only options left are hive top feeders.

Another issue with liquid feed is that for the bees to reach it they would need to break the cluster to safely get to the feed. In the subfreezing weather the liquid feed could also crystalize but if the bees are able to keep a constant temperature and you don’t expose the feeder to the cold too much it may stay warm enough inside the hive to keep it from crystalizing.

The most common form of winter feed is fondant. Fondant is a heated mixture of sugar, water, and corn syrup that, when heated, is inverted into fructose and glucose which is the same sugars found in honey. Fondant looks just like the fondant used by bakers for cakes but baking fondant contains other ingredients such as vanilla flavoring and starch which are harder for the bees to digest.

The biggest benefit of feeding with fondant is its pliability and rigidity. It is a solid feed so the bees are able to eat it without having to break cluster or worry about drowning. One of the simplest ways of feeding with fondant is by placing a slab of it right on top of your frames. Making sure it does not obstruct your bee's movements, they can easily crawl onto the fondant and feed without leaving a cluster. If you feed on top of frames you want to get a baggie feeder or shallow super to go around it so the hive top can sit flat.

Some beekeepers have also fashioned a slab of fondant into an empty frame and wrapped it with 5-mesh hardware cloth to hold it in place, in essence making a frame feeder. If you don't want to keep the fondant in the hive in case you think you need to go in later, you can also remove the floats in the Hive Top Feeders and place some fondant in the compartments as well as using a Plastic Hive Top Feeder.

Winter is the roughest time of year for bees. Your current generation of bees will need to last at least 5 times longer than what a normal bee's lifespan is so you want to make sure that they have all the nutrition and resources they will need to survive any form of winter. Winter is also a trying time for beekeepers just because when it gets really cold there is really nothing we can do to help the hive without potentially causing more troubles. Now is the time to plan and prepare so your hive will have its best chance through the winter.