Winterizing bees in the High Desert

winterizing honey bee hive

We opened up the beehive today to see how the ladies were doing. They seem to be doing really good but were in a terrible mood lol. Bees in a bad mood are no fun so we just let them be after that. No pun intended.

Interestingly, hives produce two types of bees depending on the time of the year. There are summer bees and winter bees. Summer bees only live 4 to 6 weeks while winter bees live 4 to 6 months. This probably helps to slow down the or minimize the need for food and slow down energy expenditure as the queen does not need to lay as many eggs.

This time of year there isn’t a lot that needs to be done with your beehive if you are lucky enough to have one (or three). The bees are pretty quiet and are just trying to stay warm and survive the winter months.  Since we’re located in sunny southern california, and the high desert to boot, there’s really not a lot we need to do to help our bees through winter.

Don’t crack the propolis

One of their major activities is putting propolis in all the cracks of their hive in order to keep the wind from blowing through. This will help keep the heat in and increase their chances of survival. So one of the things that you definitely don’t want to do is completely open up the hive and pull it apart. You will crack their propolis and open up all the drafts that they just took care of.

Supplementing honey

If your hive isn’t firmly established, your young hive may not have gathered enough honey to make it through the winter. The store honey for their winter rations when honey isn’t available from summer flowers. A small hive doesn’t have enough workers to build honeycomb, which is their Storage facility. And a small hive doesn’t have enough workers to collect pollen to store to make honey even if they did have enough storage.

Either way, if you don’t supplement your bees they may end up starving to death over the winter.

A hive in the southern california climate should have at least 30 pounds of honey to make it through winter (compare that to about 90 pounds they need to survive in a northern climate!).  This of course depends on your local climate, the condition of the bees, etc.  If you take too much honey or your bees haven’t been able to produce enough, whether from being a small hive or a bad pollen year, you’re going to have to supplement.

BeesVita Plus 

One thing I really suggest is using BeesVita Plus. A good idea is to supplement your bees with honey to make sure they’re getting all their nutrients. However, you may also bring in disease with the honey.

A better alternative is BeesVita Plus, which is a vitamin supplement that’s been shown to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder. Definitely get this! If it’s not available on amazon below then try googling it.

How we supplement our bees

Our bee hive has been pretty neglected and we’ve only recently begun to seriously care for it. The same hive has sat under a cherry treat for the fifteen years we’ve lived on the property, and who knows how long it was there before.  We’re guessing it’s about thirty years old, especially considering the hive’s box was literally falling apart.  

Since they were neglected so long, the hive has fought and struggled to survive and was pretty small when we peeked in on them.  Now granted, they’ve made it through quite a few winters on their own without any help, but we want them to grow big and strong next year so we decided to help them out a bit.

We take a five gallon bucket and mix one part pure cane sugar and one part water. Then we put tennis balls or wiffle balls or even just sticks to float on the surface of the sugar water so that the honeybees have a surface to land on and minimize the chance of them drowning. It is a pretty easy set up and easy to maintain. Just fill it up once a week or less often depending on your climate.  Not a lot of work considering it’s to keep your bees alive.

If you live in a high moisture area, which we don’t lol, you can just put dry sugar out without water.  That way you’ll keep the hive from having too much moisture. We live in the desert so moisture is not a worry for this area.  As a matter of fact, a little extra moisture is probably helpful for high desert California bees.

Wind Breaks

Living in the High Desert, we are all aware of the frigging insane winds we get. Just like us humans, bees can get wind stress and this makes it particularly difficult to survive the winter months where wind chill factor makes all our lives miserable.

Our bees are shelter in a fruit orchard, but if your bees are exposed you’re going to need to do something to help them out.

Some ideas are as simple as putting a few straw bales around them or even building a wood pallet wall. Simple and they’ll make your bees much happier.

image from www.beeculture.com, a great online bee magazine site

Extra tips

Some things to keep in mind when you are checking on your bees in winter. Like I mentioned above, don’t open your beehive up fully to the point where you have to crack propolis. If it is getting down below 50°. You break that propyl us and you allow drafts and they will freeze to death. Another thing to keep in mind is if the bees are huddled around the queen, don’t disturb them. They are keeping her warm and if you lose your queen, you lose your hive.

Pollen Patties

A lot of people give their bees pollen patties for extra protein through the winter, but this isn’t the right thing to do!  Bees don’t eat pollen, only the larvae do.  This means you need to provide pollen patties when the eggs are about ready to hatch and this happens closer to spring. A good rule of them is to not give pollen patties until at least after the winter solstice. Another good idea is to pay attention to when plants first begin budding out and getting ready to have their flowers bloom.  You want to put out the pollen patties a few weeks before this date.

Pay attention

Don’t be like us and completely neglect your hive.  We inherited a hive and had no idea what to do with it, but finally got our act together and hired a beekeeper.  She’s taught us tons of things, but one of the most important is that you should be consistently opening your bee box and checking on how the girls are doing.  Bees are amazing creatures, but considering how endangered they are in this modern world, we should all be doing our utmost to take care of them.

These books got me started in beekeeping

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