Preparing our Bees for Winter
The life of a female honeybee during the summer is one of hard work and only lasts three to four weeks. They work hard all day to support their hive to ensure it lives on. During the winter, these bees live longer, often several months, but their life consists of nothing more than trying to stay warm and keeping their queen alive during the cold weather. They will work to keep their cluster at a balmy 95 degrees by flexing their flight muscles while keeping their wings still. Essentially like we humans shiver to stay warm.
As a beekeeper, it’s very important to help your bees as much as possible during these cold months. It starts by feeding them heavy sugar water during the fall to ensure their honey supply will sustain them through the winter. If they don’t have enough honey close to the center of the hive, they will starve. Even if there is honey on the outside of the hive box, it may be too cold for them to venture that far from their warm cluster.
One way to help keep their hive box warmer, just like your home, is to put insulation around the sides and on top of the hive. This helps slow the heat loss that the bees work so hard to generate. It’s important though to allow for airflow out the top of the hive so that moisture does not build up. After the insulation, wrap it in black roofing paper to help attract those powerful sun’s rays.
Just like us humans, the next most important aspect of survival is getting out of the wind. You want to make sure you have a good wind break from those cold winter winds. Here in Wisconsin, that especially means protecting them from the westerly and northerly winds.
If all goes well, your bees will emerge from their wintery home on those days when the thermometer gets into the 50’s, going to the “bathroom” for the first time in months, since they will not do this in the hive.
Honeybees are fascinating creatures. I highly encourage everyone to get a hive for their farm or backyard.