Beginning Beekeeping: Feeding Your Hive In Winter

by Texas Homesteader ~

Sometimes your beehives still need to be fed during the winter months. There can be many reasons for this, including a late-season swarm reducing the number of worker bees in the hive, etc. But you don’t want to feed sugar/water syrup when it could freeze. Here’s what we do.

You feed your beehives differently in the winter than you did in the warmer months. Come see how we feed our bees during winter months. #TexasHomesteader

New Beekeepers

We purchased two established hives in the spring of 2016. So far they’ve done very well. I’ve been sharing details of our beekeeping journey along the way. I’ve linked to various topics we’ve already covered below. Feel free to check ’em out!

When the weather starts turning colder RancherMan begins preparing the hives for winter weather. 

He starts by placing entrance reducers at the front of the hives. This narrows the entrance size to keep the cold wind at bay. That will help to keep the hive warmer when those cold winds blow. Plus it gives a smaller entrance for the bees to have to defend against honey robbing too.

But although we feel our hives are going into the winter with a healthy honey reserve to see them through, we wanted to make sure. Especially for our tiny swarm hive. They’re healthy, but their numbers are small

So during an unseasonably warm, sunshiny and windless winter day we decided to go in for a little check-see…

Winter Hive Inspection

When RancherMan cracked open the hive we were very pleased to see lots of activity. He also noted a healthy reserve of honey to keep them fed even now when their flowering food source is gone.

But we know that the coldest months of winter are still on the way. So we want to make sure they have plenty to eat.

You feed your beehives differently in the winter than you did in the warmer months. Come see how we feed our bees during winter months. #TexasHomesteader

We’ve heard horror stories of entire hives that starved to death over winter. Today’s feeding will serve as inexpensive insurance for us!

But we can’t just feed them sugar water the way we did over the summer. It would just freeze in the jar!

In wintertime the feed recommended by our local beekeeper’s association is granulated sugar. Although the following procedure is the method they suggested for our area, be sure to check with your own local beekeepers association in your area if you have any questions about winter feeding for your own hive.

Winter Hive Feeding

So first RancherMan made a spacer by cutting a spacer from a piece of siding insulation. You know what our battle cry is: “Use Whatcha Got!” He then used duct tape to wrap the edges for stability. This spacer will give us plenty of room to add some granulated sugar beneath the inner cover of the hive.

Feeding Dry Sugar

Our local beekeeper’s association says the easiest winter feeding supplementation is simply feeding dry sugar poured on a piece of newspaper. This may work well here in NE Texas but not as well in other areas of the country. Be sure to check with your local beekeeper’s association or extension agent to find out best practices in your area.

To feed the dry sugar we removed the telescoping lid and the inner cover and placed placed a single layer of newspaper on top of the frames. The newspaper will keep the sugar from just falling between the frames and making a mess inside the hive.

Then we topped the newspaper with the homemade spacer and poured a 4-lb bag of sugar on top of the newspaper and spread it evenly.

You feed your beehives differently in the winter than you did in the warmer months. Come see how we feed our bees during winter months. #TexasHomesteader

Our beekeeper’s association noted that the bees will eat through this thin layer of newspaper to get to the sugar. By then the small amount of condensation in the hive will have turned the sugar to a harder sugar candy for them.

Feeding A Candyboard

If I have more time I’ll feed the bees a candyboard. That’s where I’ve simmered water and then added sugar and stirred until it was completely dissolved.

Then I allowed it to boil without stirring until it reached the candy temperature of soft ball stage (235 degrees F.)

Then I cooled the mixture until it was about 200 degrees & whipped the cooled fondant in my stand mixer until I’d incorporated air into it and the mixture turns white.

Finally I pour the mixture into prepared paper plates and allow it to cool and harden.

When I feed the candyboard I still lay a sheet of newspaper down and set the candyboard upon it before removing the paper plate. I feel it keeps loose sugar grains from cascading through the hive frames. But that’s an optional step

Candyboard for winter honeybee hive feeding #TexasHomesteader

I’ll be writing a more detailed post about making a honeybee candyboard soon, so be watching.

Closing Up The Hive

Whether using dry sugar or a candyboard, after it’s placed in the hive  RancherMan carefully replaced the inner cover & the telescoping lid and strapped everything back down.

We’re confident between their ample honey stores and the sugar we’ve fed them that they’ll come through the winter healthy & ready to get to work come spring!

Again, this is what was recommended by our local beekeeper’s association. If you have any questions about winter feeding in your own area, your local beekeeper’s association is a very good information source.

Happy beekeeping!

~TxH~

BEEKEEPING SERIES:

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8 thoughts on “Beginning Beekeeping: Feeding Your Hive In Winter

  1. Melissa Ruddy

    This is fascinating. Now that bee’s are on the endangered species list what you are doing is all the more important.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I’m pleased to see a great interest in beginning beekeeping Melissa. I think there are lots of folks interested in getting into it. Yea! ~TxH~

      Reply
  2. Mary - the boondocks blog

    What an interesting read. I see bee hives all around my farm in other farms but I had no idea how these things work. Thanks for the information. And of course you want to protect your bees they give you the best honey.

    Reply
  3. ColleenB.~Texas

    Your bee updates are so interesting and I keep learning something new each time.
    I was wondering what a person does to care for their bees during the cold winter months when no flowers are in bloom.
    I take it that you don’t have to put round bales around your hives to block the cold, bitter winds?

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Not with the relatively mild winters we get in Texas Colleen, although some folks up north where the bitter cold is sustained for weeks might. We learned much about where the best location & conditions to set up your hive before we ever bought our bees. Although I was initially impatient going to classes & seminars a year before we ever got bees, now I’m so glad we didn’t get the bees first and learn the ropes afterward! So many mistakes would have been made and probably hives lost… I can’t recommend education first enough! RancherMan did do one thing that was never been mentioned to us though – he set up a strapping system to strap the tops to the hives. Last night we received 50 mph winds and our beehives are still intact, probably because of those straps. Smart man, that RancherMan of mine is… 🙂 ~TxH~

      Reply
  4. Cynthia D

    We don’t have bees, but I have found your blogs about your bees very interesting. I have heard of using sugar water for the bees, but never knew that beekeepers put sugar in the hive during the winter. Interesting.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Thanks for your comment Cynthia. This has been our first year of beekeeping and we’ve learned that many newbies lose their hives during the winter. So far our hive looks healthy but we wanted to make sure they have all they need to get through until spring. Fingers crossed – I’m really looking forward to that first real honey harvest!! ~TxH~

      Reply

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