Bee Fall Management: Preparing for the Winter

The colony starts preparing for winter in late summer or early fall. Preparation often begins in the northern regions around August or September. However, it may start earlier, depending on your locale.

The best trick in bee fall management is feeding bees with a syrup made of either 1:1 or 1:2 parts sugar and water in small amounts each day. The syrup supplements the honey supplies ensuring the bees survive the winter without leaving the hive. Honey-filled frames help the queen lay in the winter.

What is the objective in fall management of bees?

The goal of management during this time of the year is to ensure that a healthy population of honey bees has a high chance of surviving the coming winter. A good, healthy colony of “winter bees” is much more crucial than young bees.

Both honey bees and beekeepers focus on the coming winter throughout the fall season. For the bees, it starts when queens halt or reduce brood production. The colony then forcibly expels drones since they are a waste of food supplies and have little to no use during the winter. 

The colony’s population significantly decreases from approximately 50,000 to approximately 10,000 bees or the quantity of a new bee package. With the surplus honey present in the hive, the smaller colony is more prepared and has higher chances of surviving the winter.

Winter bees or bees raised in the late summer or early fall have evolved the ability to store resources for a long time. Summer bees are less adept at this hence the prep. The winter bee population originates from the queen. Therefore, you should ensure they are qualified for the position.

 One should carefully consider requeening the colony if there is any uncertainty over the queen’s health. In fact, some beekeepers require their hives yearly in the late summer or early fall. This helps the population as younger queens produce more eggs faster. A first-year queen is also considerably less likely to swarm the following spring.

Colony size and how to manipulate it

Both colony size and location are crucial for successful overwintering. Although the cluster’s location is simple to change, colony size issues might be more challenging. 

A bee colony has its strategy for surviving the winter. To alter it, you need to alter their hive conditions. While it may be effective most of the time, occasionally, there’s always that colony that will defy your efforts no matter what you try.

Significant amounts of heavy syrup can occasionally be fed to colonies to prevent them from growing too large. This is frequently the consequence of new or Italian queens. 

In addition, the brood nest shrinks due to the bees storing material in or close to it. Restricting the queen to the lowest brood box until the arrival of cold weather can also help reduce large colonies.

It is more challenging to increase the population of tiny colonies. Feeding a mild syrup of 1:1 or even 1:2 of one part sugar to two parts water in tiny daily increments has been successful to give the queen a spot to deposit her eggs. This feeding is sometimes accompanied by replacing a few honey-filled frames close to the brood nest with empty pulled frames. 

You can equalize if you are fortunate enough to have colonies that are both too big and too little. First, however, take the necessary precautions to ensure you aren’t spreading disease between your colonies.

Bee location in the hive

The lowest brood box’s center should contain the cluster. Frames of pollen should be by the cluster. The lowest brood box should have frames of honey against the outer walls, and the frames above the box should be filled. Simply change the frames as needed to alter the colony’s placement without disturbing the nest.

Cost/benefit ratio

Winter losses are an expense of doing business for both commercial and hobbyist beekeepers. Hobbyist colony losses, however, may drastically raise the expense of beekeeping and are very disruptive.

It may cost between $125 and $225 to replace a lost colony with a new bee package or nuc. A swarm of “free” bees can also be captured, which requires both time and resources.

New bees tend to take a lot more time and work to get started. First-year colonies seldom, if ever, provide extra honey for the beekeeper. On the other hand, overwintered bees can quickly increase both population growth and honey output.

Hive inspections

Your colonies need to be able to survive winter and be ready for the next season. This can only be achieved if they’re disease-free, well-fed, and headed by a strong and effective queen. You can only be sure of this if you conduct your inspections as follows:

1. First inspection

This is your opportunity to check and fix anything as you get your bees ready for winter. Start by observing any indications that a hive may not be queenright. Then, check and appropriately size your colonies and take the chance to appropriately alter the conditions of the hive for best results.

2. Second Inspection 

This is your final opportunity to adjust for colony size, so check the size. Any management initiative that failed at this point ought to be clear.

Examine the honey stores: Continue feeding light colonies or offer frames of honey from your stockpile.

Add winter ventilation and insulation: Now is the time to install any hive covers, moisture boards, comforters, hay bales, rain roofs, or other materials you want to use. Winter is rapidly approaching.

What to do in the fall management of bees

According to a survey, almost 32% of managed bee colonies in the United States perish every winter.   According to the survey respondents, the primary causes of these losses were varroa mites and queen problems. 

Late summer and early fall are your last opportunity to improve these conditions before winter.

As such, to properly manage beehives in the fall, do the following:

1. Replace your queen

Observe any indications that a hive may not be queenright. As the beekeeping season ends, supplies of fresh, mated queens decrease. Therefore, it is best to replace a failing or absent queen as quickly as possible.

Replace the queen as a last resort, or combine weaker colonies with stronger ones. A weak colony is one that has fewer than five complete frames of bees. A small cluster can’t provide enough heat to endure a harsh winter.

2. Combine colonies

Colonies can be combined easily. You remove the queen from the weaker colony since you only want one queen in the hive.

Place newspapers over the top box of the stronger hive. Then, on top of the newspaper, put a box containing the weaker colony and some food supplies. Close the hive, blocking off the upper box’s entrance.

The weaker colony will gradually adjust to the robust queen’s pheromones during the following days. Finally, the newspaper will be chewed through by both colonies of bees, combining them into a single, more powerful colony.

3. Remove surplus honey

The colony may have used up its reserves following a summer honey harvest during a protracted nectar shortage. Additionally, the bees will have contributed extra honey to the hive if the fall nectar flow has been robust.

Verify once more that the hive has enough winter resources before winter sets in. In conclusion, depending on how harsh your winters are, you should leave different amounts of honey for the bees. However, as a general rule, consider the following:

  • Northern regions with cold climates: around 75–85 pounds (34.0–38.6 kg) or 10 deep frames.
  • 55 to 65 lbs (24.9 to 29.5 kg) or six deep frames in moderate temperatures.
  • Southern climates with more warmth: around 35–45 pounds (15.9–20.4 kg) or 4 deep frames.

Eliminate any extra honey and consider feeding sugar syrup to those falling short on supplies.

4. Check Varroa levels

Winter colony losses are primarily caused by varroa mites. If not treated, a hive with high levels of mites in the fall is unlikely to survive the winter.

In brood cells, especially the bigger drone cells, varroa populations increase. An ideal time to treat for varroa is when the colony is broodless and the drones have been driven out.

5. Reduce hive size

Reduce the hive to accommodate the little cluster and its winter honey reserves after a significant reduction in population and the absence of fresh brood. The bees work less to stay warm when there is less space available.

There should be enough room for two medium boxes, each holding 10 frames deep. If utilizing an 8-frame or only medium boxes, adjust the number of boxes to provide an appropriate amount of area.

Make certain to take out any queen excluders.

6. Winterize the Hive

This is the last part of fall hive maintenance. Depending on your climate, different preparations are required. For instance, beehives in the north receive significantly greater protection than those in the deep south.


The main goal of fall hive management is to prepare your colonies for the winter. Winter colony losses are expensive and frequent. The main factors for these losses are varroa mites and problems with the queen. Beekeepers strive to reduce these losses by employing effective fall management.

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