Claire Balla has reported that there are many people on various forums all asking the same thing, so she has asked for someone to write a short note in response to the above question. I hope that she gets plenty of response to this. Here are a few ideas of my own. I think it would be very useful if other members would send in their experience of winter losses, and any ideas of why they occurred. 

If you have losses, use your hive records, and memory, to try to determine why they have occurred. 

My own suggestions for avoiding hive losses in winter (not in any particular order): 

  • By the end of September assess the stores and, if necessary, top them up so that there are sufficient stores in the hive to last until the following March or April. (40lb total of honey or 50:50 honey/sugar) for a full-size colony..I see no need for feeding during the winter. 
  • Stores should be checked from early March, especially if the temperatures indicate that brood rearing may be starting in earnest. Remember that this is the month when colonies are most likely to starve out, because food stores are being used up rapidly to provide the energy needed for brood rearing. 
  • Make a habit of hefting the hives during the winter period. You will soon get the dangerous ‘light’ feel of a colony in danger of starvation. 
  • Give a thorough inspection of the colony before ‘putting it to bed’ for the winter. Is there a laying queen? Is there a sign of disease? Are there enough new bees for winter? Are there enough bees to keep warm? If the colony looks to be too small, wrap it with insulation at least an inch thick. (I have successfully run colonies through winter, starting with only a single frame of brood). Check the varroa levels (this should have been done in the summer at Varroa treatment times); have you treated for varroa during the year (strictly to the manufacturer’s instructions)? 
  • Two small colonies can be placed side by side, touching each other, the pair then being shrouded with a waterproof sheet, or better still thermal insulation; they will then keep each other warmer than if standing alone. 
  • I think that good beekeeping practices throughout the year will help to avoid winter losses. Currently, there is a lot of emphasis given to avoiding stressing the bees, and I feel that this will probably help them to survive winter. 
  • Keep an eye open for hive damage during the winter, for example leaking hives, and be sure to take the trouble to visit out apiaries for this purpose. 

Andrew Halstead has drawn our attention to the Beebase website, where there is a helpful video called ”A hive autopsy – common causes of winter losses”

Geoff Cooper 

Over a quarter of bees from Flemish beekeepers did not survive winter

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