Last week we provided a general guide on how much honey stores you should leave for winter. We always advise beginners to seek support from an experienced beekeeper in your area because there are always local factors that influence your hive’s specific need. Today we take a look at the two main factors that can influence variations in hive needs.
- Your location and the local climate
- The strength and size of the honey bee colony
Location and Climate
Australia has a broad range of climates, ranging from tropical to temperate, arid to alpine. So naturally, how active your bees are over winter will vary depending on location, and so it follows that honey store needs may vary too.
Generally, bees are not active when temperatures drop below 12° Celsius. This still means that in desert and warmer temperate areas, bees may be active all year round, at least during the day. Plus, a lot of Australian native flora flowers all year round.
Due to these factors, commercial beekeepers like Andrew Morcomb are often able to work their bees all year. Andrew moves his 100+ hives between different honey flows across the West Australian Goldfields and South West. However, this takes careful planning, a lot of research and networking to obtain the sites, and A LOT of driving and heavy labour.
For backyard beekeepers and smaller operators in warmer climate areas where bees are active year round, you should still plan to leave enough honey stores to last the whole winter if:
- You’re hive/s are staying put, and/or you haven’t already secured honey flows for the whole winter
- You are unsure how much access to pollen and nectar bees will actually have in the your location over winter
- Or, the number of warm, fine days (over 12°C) during winter is highly variable/unpredictable.
In climates with very cold winters, you’ll need to be extra sure they have enough stores at the start of winter. If you need to feed sugar syrup do so while bees are still active, BEFORE the cooler weather hits.
Feeding them sugar syrup won’t be of use if it’s too cool (12˚C or less) for them to process it! If you’re unsure or very new to beekeeping, always seek advice from experienced beekeepers in your area (we can’t emphasise this enough!)
Size and Strength of the Colony
According to the Australian Beekeeping Guide, very strong colonies with many mouths to feed can be a liability rather than an asset in winter if there’s not enough honey stores available. But smaller colonies will still need plenty of stores too, if they are to survive the winter and hit the ground running next spring.
- Bees will consume the most honey stores in late winter and early-spring, as brood rearing takes off. This is when bees usually starve because there isn’t enough stores.
- The Australian Beekeeping Guide advises that two or three combs of fully sealed honey can also be set aside for each colony as emergency feed, or to ensure there is enough to support brood rearing later on.
- A growing population of adult bees also needs more food. So even if you’re colony is weak then you should be providing them with plenty of stores.
- If your bees still forage over winter, remember that bad weather slows down nectar gathering. It’s hard to predict the number of fine days there will be, and it’s better to leave too much honey stores than too little.
- When not enough nectar is brought into the hive, the amount of stores will quickly decrease and feeding sugar syrup may be necessary.
- As mentioned above, remember that bees can only process sugar syrup on warmer days (over 12˚C). Do not leave a batch of sugar syrup in the hive more than 3 days or it may ferment. Or, consider dry feeding.