Wintering Hives in Western Canada

This article is supplied by Sheldon Stehn from Sweet Pure Honey on overwintering in Canada.

Sheldon is a commercial beekeeper who has adapted his beekeeping practices to suit a commercial setup and location in Western Canada.
Although North America is a far way from Europe and the UK – there may still be tips below that you may find helpful to add to your overwintering practices. Don't forget to check in with local experienced beekeepers for common overwintering practices specific to your area.

Wintering your Flow Hive

Over the past 20+ years of commercial beekeeping, I have learned a few things that are staples and generally agreed upon as best practice in the commercial beekeeping industry. I have made mistakes (and you will make mistakes, that is how you learn). But as long as you are doing your job observing, keeping a feeding record, checking for various mites and American Foulbrood (AFB) signs, suppressing the size of the bottom entrance and wrapping your colonies with sufficient insulation, you should do fine.
Here is what I do, and the general timeline that I do it at based on my area in N.E. Saskatchewan. It is not exactly the same depending on where you live, determined by average temperatures, how late your fall generally is, and the big one, when does flow end in your region.

It is important to know when your hives are finishing flow. Flow is the period when bees store excess honey so that we beekeepers can harvest honey with no adverse effect on the health and well-being of the hive.

After this time period that commercial beekeepers call “robbing” begins. You will recognize this time by observing bee’s going for empty or full boxes of honey with numbers or vigor. This is the time to strip your honey producing supplies and start the process of feeding your hives.

This is also the time to start checking for Varroa Mites. Any number above 1% you should consider treatment. There is a huge amount of information that I could swamp you with, after so many years beekeeping, I never stop learning new things.

The size of this blog limits me to tell you all the things I have learned, this is a basic idea for people new to the concept, so I will break it down in the following chart, giving general dates and activities on those dates, so here it goes:

Overwintering Timeline

General description
Beginning to end of August
Check for Varroa Mites
Do some research on how to do this properly. Personally, I don’t like a sample less than 300-400 bees. If you have a single hive, no less than 100 per sample. Any count of Varroa over 1% of sample consider treatment.
Beginning to end of August
Put on Reducers
I would delay is above average temperatures, exist and persist. Otherwise, put them on. Then measure to protect your hive from “robbing”, wasps, hornets, or bees from other colonies in your area.
Beginning to end of August
Start to feed
Feed as early as you can. This gives the hive the ability to keep on brooding at the fullest potential.
Beginning to end of August
Check for American FoulBrood A very important skill to learn is to be able to recognize AFB. It may be treatable, but if not recognized early will mean certain collapse of the colony and the burning of equipment and bees to avoid the spreading of this disease to other colonies nearby. *
Early to mid-September Continue feeding This process should take 3-4 weeks. You want to not overdo it, but also not under do it either, but generally fault more to the too much feed as underfeeding at this time of year affects bee numbers going into winter.

The general rule in beekeeping is the more bees the better chance of survival. Also, treatments for Varroa and AFB should continue.*
Early to mid-September Keep feeding colony Keep feeding colony until the hive is producing wax between the lid and top bars. A Langstroth 10 frame 2 super hive (generally is how hives are wintered in our business) should weigh approx 150-160 lbs. This will ensure enough stores for winter.
Last 2 weeks Sept / first two weeks in October Finishing treatment (if applies)/ wrapping hives Hives need about the value of 5-10 around outside, and about R-value of 15-20 on top, with a waterproof “roof” to direct moisture away from hive and insulation.

It is a simple process once you know what to do. You will need to research some techniques for treating the mites and administering drugs if needed. Your provinces agriculturist is a valuable resource, as well as any commercial beekeepers in your area. You will be surprised at the help you will find from these resources if you reach out. There are resources on the web, and there are videos on Youtube, but be careful, some people know what they are doing and some do not. Whether you believe in treatment or not, that is your choice, however with American Foul Brood there are few choices, treat or burn. It’s that serious.

*Please note it is important to check for the legal requirements for dealing with AFB in your local area. Some regions have strict legal requirements that must be followed.

The opinions expressed in this article are not endorsed by Flow and are intended as an educational guide only. The climatic conditions in your region will determine your overwintering schedule.

Please consult beekeepers in your local area to gain advice on the best overwintering practises for your hives during the colder months.

It is very important to check the legal requirements for dealing with pests and diseases (including AFB) in your local area. Some regions have strict legal requirements that must be followed.

Sheldon Hill Biography

Saskatchewan Beekeeper and artist Sheldon Hill, Sweet Pure Honey

I left for college at 19 to study art and graphic design (painting is still a passion) and took a summer job beekeeping for a childhood friend's dad to pay the bills. Apiculture turned out to be my calling: I enjoy being in nature and the bees are fascinating creatures in the way they organize themselves and make collective decisions for the good of the hive. We still don't fully understand why they do some of the things they do. It is intriguing being a part of that culture of beekeeping, a culture that is thousands of years old.