Selecting a winter yard can be difficult, as it may not be the same location as where you summered your bees. There are different considerations to take in to hand when selecting a bee yard for the winter months, here are our recommendations.
When selecting a winter yard location, it is imperative that the location offers full sun, especially in the late afternoon, in areas where winter is especially harsh. If opportunities for your bees to go on cleansing flights are poor, full sun exposure will allow your bees a few hours respite, even at temperatures hovering around -10°C, to fly or creep out on to the face of the hive.
If you are living in areas where the temperatures hover around freezing and commonly go above 5°C during mid day, then it is ideal to have 50/50 shade to sun exposure. This allows your bees to use the ambient temperatures of the early day to stay cooler and aim for that 5 – 7°C internal temperature, but still have access to good cleansing flight opportunities.
A majority of the activity that you will witness in the colony throughout the depth of winter will be signs of cleansing flight: bee poop on the face of the hive, streaking the snow, and perhaps smashed on windshields and house siding. This is great news! Bee poop is mostly made up of pollen residues and cellular waste of the bee. Much of what the bee consumes is used efficiently. The abdomen of the bee is primarily made up of coiled intestine, which works to store waste during long winter weeks. If a colony is incapable of taking their needed cleansing flights, they will be forced to defecate within the hive, which can lead to disaster of disease and death.
To encourage bee flight, wind breaks are required. This means that even if the hive is its own wind break, that can be enough. Hives should not be faced toward the normal cold front winds. In the prairies, this usually means east and western facing beehives (allowing for both receiving sun on their landing boards) with a western facing windbreak. Wind in the winter can drop the temperature dramatically. By breaking wind, the bees can gain a greater access to cleansing flight days.
When selecting a winter bee yard, an active effort to select a location with early pollen producing plants in abundance is ideal. Although pollen supplements work, nothing can replace natural sources. Wind breaks of willow, ash and alder in the prairies can work as an excellent asset for the bees. It may be too cold to inspect, but not too cold for the bees to forage for pollen.
Are you ready to go more in depth with these topics? Our Level One Beekeeping Course is the perfect opportunity to engage with beekeeping on another level. This course has limited seats so make sure to sign up so that we can notify you when registration is open.