What do bees do in winter? How to overwinter honeybees

The bee year ends with the summer and the otherwise hard-working animals come together in a cluster to protect themselves from the coming cold. Styrofoam beehives are mostly used as accommodation. This is where the busy insects feel most comfortable undisturbed. But what do bees actually do in winter? The following guide provides you with well-founded basic knowledge on how to overwinter bees in a species-appropriate manner.

In contrast to other insects, with honey bees it is not only the queen who survives the winter, but the whole colony there. If you would like to enjoy the hustle and bustle in your garden in the coming spring and harvest delicious honey, it is very important that your people overwinter in a species-appropriate manner.

The late summer care

For honey bees, winter preparations start at the end of August. The animals breed for the winter and need your support. The following steps are fundamental:

  • the screening of the people
  • setting up the winter seat
  • the additional feeding

The review

– are your people ready for winter? –

The bee cluster – independent protective measure

From a temperature of 12 ° C, the insects form a cluster of bees. Around 10,000, sometimes 20,000 animals cluster together in a huge heap. Since each “layer” acts like an insulating cover, a temperature of 25 ° C is created in the prey. For this reason, your bee colony should consist of at least 10,000 bees in winter. A stock of 5,000 is considered the minimum lower limit.

Review of the people’s estates

Carefully detach a honeycomb from the center of the bee seat. You can now check the existing brood. Each stage of development should be represented. That includes

  • mostly covered brood of workers
  • Owner
  • young larvae
  • older larvae

Review of the people’s estates

Now take a look inside the incubator. This is located under the honey space and usually forms two frames. A winter-proof bee colony has four to five brood combs per frame and has about eight cells full of bees. These traits suggest a capable queen.

What to do with drone brood?

You can recognize drone brood, also known as “humpback brood”, by the conspicuously curved cell covers. This happens when the queen is lost or her sperm supply is exhausted. In this case workers also breed. However, they can only father males. Unfortunately, since your colony cannot survive under these circumstances, you will have to disintegrate it. If the brood is insufficient but the queen is present, it helps to bring colonies together. In some cases you can also add a new queen to your herd.

Tip: To disintegrate a bee colony, you must eject it at least 10 meters from the rest of the colony. Otherwise, aggressive drone mothers will nestle up and pose a threat to your queen.

You can get a new queen at a beekeeping association near you.

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Set up the winter seat

– important protective measures –

A colony of bees is usually overwintered with a honey room and two brood chambers, the frames. You can also provide just one room for a very small inventory. For this you need

  • a frame with lid and bottom
  • 4 to 5 empty cells

The two-room wintering

This is how you proceed with the two-room winter storage:

  1. Remove the dark brown boxes from the lowest brood chamber and hang them in the empty box.

Warning: aggressive flying bees can be found here!

  1. check the combs for brood and disease features
  2. Place six brood cells in the frame (if necessary, use cells from the other frame)
  3. Place a pollen comb on both sides of the brood comb
  4.  also hang a blank honeycomb
  5. hang another full honeycomb lining on the edges
  6. place the incubation frame on the magazine floor
  7. now set up the upper incubation frame. To do this, first move the dark honeycombs into the empty frame
  8. Place 3 to 5 forage cells in the middle
  9. Repeat points 4-6
  10. Fill up the remaining space with empty honeycombs
  11. transport all animals into the boxes that have been set up
  12. Put on the incubation chamber and lock the magazine

Sort out honeycombs – the hand sample

For hibernation, you need to remove all the old honeycombs. To find this out, use the hand sample. To do this, hold the honeycomb up to the light. The shadow of your hand must be visible behind the honeycomb. Otherwise, discard the old honeycomb. Unhoused empty honeycombs also do not belong in the winter seat. You can use them again next spring.

Requirements for the bee hive

Bees keep themselves warm by forming a cluster.

An extra sealing of the beehive is therefore not necessary. On the contrary, there must be contact with the outside temperature, because

  • Bees adjust their life cycle according to temperature. If they are too warm, they breed too early, which puts a considerable strain on their metabolism
  • Without a draft, mold will form in the magazine
  • Without the possibility of escaping, it comes to defecation within the prey. Illness threatens.
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An open grid floor is suitable for wintering. However, you should insulate the inner lid to reduce heat loss from the beehive.

Inspection rounds in winter

Once the cluster of bees has formed, you must protect your prey from vibrations. If bees fall out of the cluster, they usually freeze to death before they can rejoin the group. In addition, the loosening from the accumulation means an increased feed intake and thus increased excrement formation.
Coarse-meshed wires help against intrusive tits or woodpeckers. There is also a risk through

  • falling branches
  • Wind and storm

This is why you need to check on your people after every storm and check the prey for damage. You only need to clear snow from the entrance hole if it is iced over.
To see how your colony is doing, gently tap the prey. Even the slightest vibration changes the buzzing sound. Do this very carefully (see above).

Tip: Use the winter break for any work that may arise, such as cleaning and repair work, for example soldering in the middle walls.

Predators and diseases of the bee

The shrew also seeks protection from the cold in winter. A filled beehive is just the thing, especially since the insects and their honey supplies are also sufficient supplies.

Tip: You can prevent a shrew from nesting by either attaching a mouse screen or narrowing the entrance hole with a wedge.

The most common diseases include:

  • the Varroamilbe
  • and the American foulbrood

The following means can be used to combat this:

  • Formic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Oxalic acid

Formic acid is very effective, but it also has disadvantages:

  • has a corrosive effect on the skin
  • the queen stops the egg activity during the treatment
  • triggers unrest
  • an overdose makes the honey inedible

When controlling pests with lactic acid, the outside temperature must be above 5 ° C. With a single spray, the acid already has a success rate of 80%. A second process increases this to 90%. It is best to use 15% lactic acid. Oxalic acid is available from the vet or you can mix it yourself. Inject the pest poison onto the bee cluster once and before December 31 of the year. The outside temperature should be close to freezing point. The 3.5% product is recommended.

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In addition, non-chemical measures contribute to combating the varroa mite:

  • cutting out the capped drone brood
  • the cold wintering
  • the formation of offshoots

Symptoms of disease:

  • a patchy brood nest
  • leftover capped brood on the edge of a nest
  • Sunken, holey and damp cell covers
  • black scabs on the cell base
  • brownish maggots under the cell covers
  • putrid smell
  • brown, slimy mass

Tip: As a beginner, you should find out all about the approvals and regulations before you start pest control.

The additional feeding

– a constant give and take –

During the winter your colony needs around 15 kg of food. Two thirds of this will only be used in the spring. Even if you, as a beginner, do not harvest honey in the first year, additional feeding is important so that your colony has enough nutrients in stock to overwinter.

Why is additional feeding so important?

Of course, your bees don’t produce the honey to pamper you. They actually need it themselves as building material and food. It is therefore necessary to find a replacement after each honey harvest. Especially in the cold season, the insects can no longer find nectar and have to fall back on their supplies. These are essential to convert food into heat.

Make the sugar solution

A suitable alternative to honey is sweet liquid food. Mixing the sugar water is very easy. You need:

  • commercial household sugar
  • water

Dissolve the sucrose in a ratio of 3: 2 in warm water. Then place the solution in a bowl in the beehive. Feed your bees in the evenings.

Tip: A few styrofoam islands in the bowl help the animals to eat. In this way, the insects do not threaten to drown in the liquid.

Speed ​​is required when feeding

Although you should avoid hectic movements, you should not allow yourself too much time with additional feeding. If the people stay open too long, there may be robbery. This means that other swarms are attracted by the food and attack weaker colonies. Especially in late summer, when the nectar supply becomes scarce, the risk increases.

How long can you feed?

The additional feeding begins after the last honey harvest in August. There is no standard for the amount as it depends on many factors such as

  • climatic conditions
  • Type of installation of the bee colony
  • or the already existing feed stocks

depends. You should stop feeding in the middle of September.

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