How to prepare your hives for winter: a checklist

How you prepare your hives for winter depends on where you live, so some of the suggestions below may not apply to you. Nevertheless, the list may give you some ideas. Although the calendar still shows September, those long, dark, cold days of winter are just around the corner. It’s time to get busy.

  • Remove empty supers. Make the space inside the hive commensurate with the size of the colony. If necessary, reduce the hive volume with follower boards, especially in a top-bar hive. A proper interior size is less drafty and less likely to harbor intruders.
  • Check for a laying queen. You should see at least some brood in your hive. If you don’t, order a queen as soon as possible.
  • Check for colony size and combine small ones. Come spring it is better to have one live colony than two dead ones.
  • Check for honey stores. If your hives are too light, it’s time to start feeding with a vengeance.
  • Assure that the honey frames are in the right place, that is, they should be on both sides of the cluster and above it in a Langstroth hive. Move frames around if necessary. In a top-bar hive, put the cluster at one end of the hive and put the honey frames next to the cluster on the other side. This way, the colony can move laterally in one direction to find food.
  • Reduce hive entrances if you haven’t already. It’s time for mice and other small creatures to find a snug and warm overwintering place—one filled with honey is especially attractive.
  • Remove weedy vegetation from the base of the hive. Vegetation is a convenient hiding place for creatures who may want to move into the hive and it can be used like an entrance ramp or stepladder.
  • Use an inner cover under your outer cover for greater insulation.
  • Put a slatted rack in your hive if you don’t already have one. The slatted rack adds space between the bottom of the cluster and the drafty hive opening.
  • Put a wintergreen grease patty in each hive. Grease patties won’t control a large mite infestation, but they can slow the increase of mites during the winter months.
  • If you live in a wet area, make sure your lids will keep out the rain. Make any needed repairs now.
  • If wintertime moisture is a problem in your hives, add a quilt box above the brood boxes.
  • Provide ventilation for your hives: air must be able to come in through the bottom and out through the top. I like to use a screened bottom board all winter long.
  • If high winds are a problem you may consider adding a skirt around the base of your hive to reduce drafts. Although you want adequate ventilation, you don’t want a wind tunnel.
  • If high winds are a problem, secure your lids with heavy stones or tie-downs.
  • If high winds are a problem, you may want to shield upper ventilation holes from side winds.
  • If high winds are a problem, consider providing a windbreak.
  • If extreme cold is a problem, consider wrapping your hives with insulation or tar paper . . . but, again, don’t forget the ventilation.
  • If winter flooding is a problem, move the hives to higher ground now while the weather is still dry.

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