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Top 10 Tips for Winter Beekeepers

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Winter can be a tough time for bees and beekeepers alike. Especially if you're new to beekeeping, you may worry that your bees won't make it through the winter. And yet there are things to do to get ready for next season. Follow these tips to help your bees survive and to set up for spring.

1. Wrap up your hives.

Photo © Flickr user wildxplorer
Wrapping hives in tarpaper keeps them warm yet allows the hive to breathe. Staple tarpaper to the outside of the hives, making sure to leave entrances open. There are also some commercial hive wrappings on the market. The black color of tarpaper and wraps attracts the sun, warming the hive.

2. Don’t remove frames for inspection.

Photo © Flickr user Find Your Feet
Unless temperatures are above 65 degrees F, it's too cold to expose bees to the air. You can do a brief inspection if you must, but it's best to leave the bees alone now. You can use a hivetop or inverted pail feeder to give them sugar syrup without chilling them.

3. Check your hives from the outside.

Photo © Lauren Ware
Lift them to see how heavy they are. They should have about 70 pounds of honey in each of them to get them through the winter. Do any last minute winter preparations that are needed. Mark any light hives so you know which will need feeding in late February.

4. Put equipment away properly.

Make sure all your equipment is safely stored - cleaned and ready for next year. Scrape woodenware clean of wax and propolis, then wash with a solution of washing soda and water. Old brood combs that are in good condition should be sterilized: stack out of doors on the ground, seal the joints between the boxes with tape, and place a saucer at the top of the stack of boxes in an empty super. Fill the saucer with 80% acetic acid. Place a lid on top and leave for one week. Make sure to air the boxes and frames for one week before putting into use. This will kill most bee pests.

5. Order equipment now.

A 10-frame cedar beehive by Evans Cedar Beehives.
Photo © Rob Evans
Take an inventory of what you have and make a list of what you will need. Start shopping online for supplies. In the spring, beekeeping supply stores are overloaded with orders and shipping can be slow. By ordering now, you can beat the rush and have everything safely stowed and ready to go. In fact, if you are going to need to assemble hive components, now is the perfect time to do it.

6. Order bees online now.

Package bees.
Photo © Flickr user Joe DeLuca
This is the best time to order bees online. Many suppliers are out of stock by early spring. Think about how many queens you will need and order those, and how many pounds of package bees you want. Consider going in with other local beekeepers on a large order, or ordering through a local beekeeper who is already getting a large order.

7. Order a beekeeping book or two and read up.

It's a great time to read about beekeeping. Check online forums, ask questions. And don't neglect to read books that will help enrich your knowledge base for next season. Here's a list of great books to start with:

8. Use up beeswax and honey.

Beeswax candles.
Photo © Flickr user Beeswic Naturals
Make candles, lotions, lip balm, or soap with the beeswax that you have left over from the season. Package up honey to sell or give as gifts. Make propolis into tincture for warding off winter viruses.

9. Connect with a local beekeeping club.

A queen bee surrounded by workers.
Photo © Lauren Ware
Finding a local beekeeping club can be one of the best things you do as a new beekeeper. Your fellow beekeepers can help you plan for the next season and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

10. Bee patient!

Honey bee larvae.
Photo © Flickr user aperte
It can be hard to wait for spring to see how your bees fared through the long, cold winter. Resist the urge to peek. Wrap them up tight, prepare as best you can, and hope for the best!

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