Wintering Down for Beekeepers

Wintering Down

Welcome to April! About now, some of you will be wondering if you still have a queen as there is only a little brood and no eggs or larvae.  Around this time of the year, the queen will slow down or stop laying.  The bees are in the hive now, are the poor things that need to live a lot longer to get through winter then start the spring build up.  That’s why we need them to be in good health, well fed and be dry.

The main cause of colonies dying between seasons is poor wintering.  



Bees need to be: 

1.  Disease free and healthy 

2. Have adequate supplies of food 

3. A sheltered dry hive.


Monitor for varroa again after treatment to make sure it has worked and they have not had a re-invasion and treat in April/May if mites are present.

The hive needs a young strong queen and young healthy bees being produced as they will be the longer lived winter bees.  A very small colony is unlikely to be able to keep itself sufficiently warm over winter so if you do it now (March early April) you can unite two small/weak colonies with 1-2 sheets of newspaper between them (break a couple of small holes in it) so that in another couple of weeks, you can reduce it to just one colony in a box with a box of feed over them.

Alternatively you can unite and spray with a bit of air freshener to confuse their smells and stop them from fighting.  By the time they sort it out they are happy as one colony.  Some beekeepers hate the thought of doing this, however on the odd occasion when I have resorted to doing this to speed up the ‘unite’, it has worked well.

Check your frames for any signs of AFB and clean up the inside of the hive by scraping down the bottom board and removing any build-up of wax.  There is no need to have your bees walking through the rubbish tip at the bottom of the hive, and then walking this up the frames.  Keep their hive clean.

The hive needs the equivalent of 9-11 frames of honey and about two of pollen.  If your hive does not have this, you will need to start feeding with sugar syrup and perhaps a pollen supplement NOW so they have time to tuck it away before the cold weather comes and they will be reluctant to leave the cluster of warmth to go and get the sugar syrup.

Wet bees are cold bees, so make sure your hive does not leak and has a firm fitting lid and no gaps from rotting or missing pieces in your hive boxes.  Tilt the entrance forward slightly so that water on the landing board does not flow back into the hive.

Close down your entrances to a gap enough for just 2-4 bees to come in and out.  This not only reduces the risk of robbing in autumn but limits the possibility of mice making the warm hive their home over winter.

In winter, bees cluster together generating heat.  To do this they need honey for their energy.  The cluster is usually in the centre of the food mass where they need empty cells in the centre (where the brood usually is), with supplies around the edge. An adequate area of empty comb space is essential. As winter progresses, they will move up into the second box, if you are wintering them with two boxes.

Cold winds will penetrate exposed hives so make sure any gaps are dealt with and the hive is positioned so that it has some shelter from prevailing winds.

When do I winter down?

  • Pick a warm and still day
  • Check the brood for AFB – there will be less brood.  Pop the tops, get out your match stick. (Photo)
  • Ensure treatment strips have been removed – why??  To avoid resistance.
  • Sugar shake or alcohol wash – how many varroa are ok? 
  • Is the colony queen right?
  • How much food does it have – pollen and honey
  • Put a feeder on?  Pollen supplement?
  • Manipulate the frames if required to get the brood together in one box
  • Remember they need empty frames to cluster on
  • Remove excess honey.
  • Store frames – watch for wax moths.  How to avoid – see photos & keep reading 
  • Replace old boxes, clean bottom board, full of frames, entrance reduced (wasps and mice) well positioned or protected, tied down or heavy brick on lid.
  • Write up your diary.


Kim Poynter
President of the Rotorua Honeybee Club 

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