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Winterization Guidelines for Virginia

We know that winter is the selector of great stock. Colonies whose genetics and preparations are strong will survive, while those weaker or less productive colonies will die. That being said, there are many things we, as beekeepers, can do to set the colonies up for success. Below is a list of things that we do in our yards to maintain successful colonies over winter:

Caution: If you are a beekeeper, your opinions may differ, and probably will!

This blog contains the steps we take to get our colonies though winter. There are many other options. Some may do more, others may do less. The over-wintering argument is one of those topics that really spells out the "art" of beekeeping over the science. For every beeekeeper you find who swears by doing one winter prep task, you'll find 2 more who swear against it. Utilize this information to draw your own conclusions and decisions.


Why bees die over winter

Winter losses are a multifactorial reality for beekeepers, especially those who endure some form of winter months (beekeepers in Florida, move on). In our experience: Many of the losses we see during spring deadout cleanings appear to be from the following (in order):

  1. Lack of food stores

  2. Poor ventilation

  3. Crummy Genetics/ Mites

  4. Struck by asteroid

  5. hypothermic shock

If you just chuckled, good.. if not... call me. More on the reason cold is at the bottom of the list later on.

Lack of food stores

Very often when called to do dead-out cleanings and colony autopsies, we find many colonies without any food stores at all. Many times, bees in colonies who lack the food needed to survive winter are found dead with their butts hanging out of their cells, sadly appearing to be reaching for the last speck of food before succumbing to hunger.

Winter prep starts in September. I say that assuming global warming doesn't have us on the beaches in December, but generally, food store assessments and 2:1 feedings start in late September in our yards. Before feeding, we always assess the stores the bees currently have. In our yards, we rarely remove all of the honey from our hives, so many do go into the winter-prep stages of the season with some honey still in the supers. This is important because you want to try and get your bees to have around 60lbs of food stores for winter. 60lbs of food is generally 2 mediums or 1 deep box of honey and pollen. If you choose to feed heavy too early, remember that honey-bounding is a real thing and resources stored in the brood ness stresses the colony and the queen out as they being to feel as if space is limited.