Keeping Our Bees in the Washington Winter Months

We have 3 healthy, thriving beehives at Scarlett Homestead at the moment and we hope that this coming spring or summer we can increase the amount of hives we have. The more the merrier.

A hive is anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 bees strong, and we prefer to raise carniolan bees as we find they are strong and hearty, have the best temperament, and are generally very docile and easy to work with. Especially here in WA State.

Keeping them happy and healthy after we steal all of their honey in the fall means giving them a little help some years. There have been winter seasons in the past where the hives had plenty of honey left in their frames to eat all winter and survive completely naturally on their own. This is the best case scenario obviously. There are a few factors contributing to a totally natural winter survival however. Enough honey, a milder winter and strong hive to name a few.

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Other years, we have had strong hives with lots of honey in the hive, but it was so cold that they couldn’t travel inside the hive enough while trying to keep the internal temperature high enough that they froze to death. Isn’t that awful? I honestly have cried out of sadness. I know they are just bees and don’t cry themselves to sleep at night for lack of a blanket or fireplace, but I just feel sad about it. I would set them in front of my fireplace at night during the winter if I could. I’m overly sensitive.

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One of the things we do is provide a little shelter. We get a lot of rain here on the coast of the Pacific Northwest and rain and cold make for some pretty bone chilling weather. Bees keep themselves warm, but if we can keep the dampness out of the hives for them (moisture can collect very easily because of the damp and cold and the heat they are creating inside), it’s the least we can do.

This is a super simple lean-to type structure made out of pallets. It’s a tin roof (the roof wasn’t on when I photographed this!) with 2 walls that are open on all sides to let the wind through. We get a good amount of wind storms out here as well and we don’t want the wind catching inside the lean-to and carrying it away!

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Then it’s up on cement blocks to keep it off the wet ground. (There’s the roof!) In the spring time I will paint it and spruce it up a bit. Because even the bees deserve a pretty house to live in.

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My husband has a good sense of how strong each hive is and how they seem to be doing, and this year we decided they needed a little human help to survive. We added what is called a Candy Board to the hives to give them a little help, should they want it. They will naturally eat their own honey from the frames first, but this is a little extra somethin’-somethin’ if they choose. One hive hasn’t touched it so far, the second is picking slowly, and the third and largest hive is eating them up like they live in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and it’s a closing out sale. To each their own I suppose.

So on warmish days, where hopefully the sun is out, we open up the hives very quickly once in a great while during these winter days and do a quick check to see if they need more. Many people do a liquid sugar syrup and we have done that in the past as well. This is our first year with these Candy Boards, and I guess we are crossing our fingers. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

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We started by making the “Candy”. It’s about 5 pounds of white table sugar, heated in a non-stick pot on the stove. Add about ¾ of a cup of water. Add more as needed, but you want a very small amount of water. Just enough to dissolve the sugar into a very thick paste. It should be hard to stir. Pour them into those throw away baking pans (but don’t throw them away! They last for a very long time!) and let them cool and harden overnight. The sugar will pop out very easily. It will be hard as a rock, just like candy!

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Rob lifted off the top of the box and put in two small boards for the candy to sit on.

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Then place the candy on top. You want room for the bees to crawl up out of the frames and access it from all angles, and not rest on the frames.

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The first little gal from this smaller hive found it pretty quickly, and then the rest followed suit.

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Ideally you would hope that you wouldn’t have to supplement, but once in a while you do, to keep your little girls happy and well fed. Come spring, our 40 acres at Scarlett Homestead will be in bloom with so many plants, shrubs, flowers and fruit bushes that they will be in bee heaven again, foraging naturally.

But for now, we are more than happy to help. Any little creature here at Scarlett is part of our little family and are treated as such.

Thank you bees, for allowing us to steal from you year after year without stinging us too much. These Candy Boards are the least we can do.

– The Bee Keepers Wife

 

16 thoughts on “Keeping Our Bees in the Washington Winter Months

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  1. Your bees look lovely! I have three Carniolan hives of my own, and the bees in one of them look a lot like yours here! I love the yellow looking-bees, like little nuggets of gold flying around. I know almost all other qualities rank higher than color in terms of their importance, but still… Gorgeous gold bees!

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    1. Oh I know, they are so beautiful. We have had such great harvests from them and they seem to survive better than Italians or other breeds we have tried. Gorgeous is right! 😊. Do you ever find the need to supplement or do they do well on their own where you are?

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      1. Italian bees can’t survive here! Sad because they look beautiful.
        I make sure they have about one brood box full of bees&stores. We prepare our bees in August, giving them lots of sugar in a small amount of time so they will need to limit brood production early in the year and produce high quality winterbees. Most beekeepers here winter their bees on one broodbox, rarely two. I’ve given mine about 5-10kg of sugar, which was first dissolved in water(3water:2sugar), to prepare for winter.
        We try to leave a lot of honey to the bees, most nw-European beekeepers agree on that, but we do supplement them with sugar until the bees ‘tell us’ they’ve had enough. We also avoid allowing them to fill winter stores with too much Ivy&heather nectar, which would also be available in August-September. That’s a recipe for nosema and other problems. Black bees apparently do well on Ivy&heather but Carnies don’t do well on it. That’s what we’ve found anyway, might be different in other parts of the world.

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      2. That’s really interesting about them filling winter stores with ivy and heather….you don’t think about certain things depending on where you live and what the climate and geography is like. We never tire of watching bee documentaries about bee keepers around the world. I think we all do similar things overall but it’s still totally different for their survival. I love knowing these little things….so thanks 😊

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  2. This is something we want to do, but so far, taking on another project seems overwhelming. Maybe next year. I love that you used pallets to make the shelter. I use pallets for so many projects….why buy lumber when pallets are free, right? 🙂 Thanks for the information.

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    1. I hear you. I don’t think I need another chore or project. If it does help though, these literally take 10 minutes to cook. Then just overnight cooling. But theres the shopping, the setting up, cutting wood…..ok yeah….it takes time 😂.

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  3. I do not know all the different kinds of bees out there, but I do know that it would be
    a very sad looking world without our fuzzy, hardworking friends.
    Great job looking after them!
    They will reward you next harvest!🐝🐝

    Liked by 1 person

  4. J > The WBC double-wall hive has advantages as far as winters are cocerned, as it shelters the brood box and any feed super/tray from wetting and the direct action of the wind, whilst keeping the hive well ventilated. Even the roof is in effect doubled up. As it can be very windy here in winter – even in a more sheltered position, I used a special bar to throttle to just 3 bees wide. Obviously this form of construction is a lit more expensive, which is why they have fallen out of favour : except with artists depicting a bucolic scene with attractive beehive : they’re almost always depicting a WBC hive!

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  5. This is so cool! Thank you for keeping bees, I know it’s a tough world out there for them with pesticides and people not wanting dandelions and the such in their yards..
    I had no idea bee keeping was such a fragile process. Your bees are lucky to have you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Those bees are very blessed to have you take care of them the way you do. But then that’s what we do……. we take care of our fuzzy little friends. They give us awesome honey!! The best!!
    Love the ‘home’ that Rob made for them. I am sure they are very happy too.
    Hooray for the bees!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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