Tucking Our Bees in for the Winter

Posted 11/05/2019 BY Bruce Rutter


Autumn is a time when we’re most thankful for the care and dedication of our beekeepers. Before the really cold weather comes, they have one last opportunity to clean out and reorganize our client beehives to ensure they are prepared and supported for winter.

Co-Founder, Noah Wilson-Rich consolidating beehives at the TAJ Hotel in Boston

Through October and early November, our beekeepers visit as many as 50 beehives a day.  Important housekeeping and data collection occur during these visits:

  • They assess each beehive’s population and record data on size, health, honey stores, activity and presence of a queen. Determining whether a queen is present can take careful examination of the entire hive. If she isn’t found, they’ll introduce a new queen into the hive.
  • Then the beekeepers go through the inner contents, frame by frame, determining which are unused, meaning the wax combs are empty of nectar, pollen, honey or brood, removing all of these “blanks”.
  • With the remaining, active frames, they’ll reorganize the beehive, placing the brood in the center, with space around them for honeybees to congregate and warm the beehive. They set up the built-out frames, containing wax comb and food stores, around the cluster of bees. This process often leads to consolidating down to 1-2 boxes.
  • If the beekeeper determines that the colony has more than enough honey stores for the winter, they’ll take out some full frames for harvesting. If supplies are low, they’ll give the colony one last feeding of sugar in liquid form.
  • One of the last steps is assuring proper ventilation—too open and the colony can freeze, too closed and water build-up from low ventilation can harm them. Beekeepers will reduce the bottom entrance and check on the size of the internal cover’s notch to assure proper ventilation. They will tip the beehive slightly to ensure any water build-up can drain out.
  • Checking for Varroa mites is a critical final step. Out-of-control Varroa mite infestations in winter can be fatal.  To prevent infestations, beekeepers collect a sample of approximately 300 bees and perform an alcohol wash, observing the number of Varroa mites that settle to the bottom. If there are Varroa mites present at levels of 3% or more of bees, they mark for treatment during the last visit of the season.
Our reserve apiary on a late autumn day in Truro, MA

In the final visit, in late November or early December, our beekeepers will take care not to disturb the colonies, as the weather may be quite cold and the bees dormant. They’ll check one more time on the size and health of each colony. If there were Varroa mites on the previous visit, they’ll apply one more treatment in the form of a liquid oxalic acid dribbled on the cluster between frames. If there’s any remaining liquid feed, they’ll remove that to reduce moisture content. Last but not least, the beekeeper may also add a honey board to provide any lightweight colonies with the food stores they need for winter months.

It’s a busy time for our beekeepers, but their diligence and hard work are well worth it.  The bees are tucked in for the winter in snug, healthy hives, and both our colonies and our clients have plenty of nutritious honey for the months to come.

NYC Beekeeper, Marcella installing winter equipment
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