How to Prepare a Beehive for Winter In New Zealand

Winter is just around the corner (officially starts 1 June). Here are some things to think about to get your bees through the cold winter months.

There is an ARRRT to wintering down a Beehive and this is kiwimana’s guide on how to do it with this simple 5 step method.

Assess – Record – Rearrange – Reduce – Treat

1. Assess

The aim is to check each frame and assess, you need to look out for…:-

  • Mokoroa 1 - Gary Inspects framesBrood frames but you’ll need to be more specific about whats in them, so check…
  • Are there eggs – How old? …is there Larvae or capped brood?
  • Are there frames with mostly pollen?
  • How many frames do you have with just Honey
  • Are there some frames with nectar in them
  • Are there any empty frames?
  • Assess how many bees you have?

2. Record

As you inspect each frame record the details, note on your inspection sheet. Here is the one we use :- Hive Inspection Check Sheet. The aim of recording is so you can then plan your next step which is, to rearrange the frames. Use the handy guide :-.

Handy Guide

3. Rearrange Frames

The aim of rearranging the frames or removing empty frames is so all the brood is in one box. This is so the cluster can stay in one place.

The Handy Guide shows the ‘ideal’ as follows;
You’ll place eggs in the middle, then larvae either side and capped brood either side.

4. Reduce the Boxes

We reduce the colonies down to two full sized boxes or three, three-quarter sized boxes (dependent on the current configuration and number of bees in the hive).

We keep one full-box of honey on the top and one to two honey-frames on the side of the brood box. Commonly it is recommended that in the Auckland area you will need at least six (full sized) frames of honey in the colony.

Check out the handy guide as referred above.

We try and get a configuration like this, this will change dependent on the amount of brood you still have.

4.1. Reduce the Entrance

B1 checking extra entrance excluderYour cluster of bees will reduce over the winter months, so you need to help them to defend their hives from attackers (such as wasps), we reduce the entrances on how hives to a 3 cm (1 inch) by 8mm high. This is about three bee spaces. This is for a moderate threat, but for a major threat, add a robbing-screen and put access to the smallest access and then leave the reduction as well. Margaret says that for wasp threats and wax-moth entry – 2 bee spaces is recommended.

The smaller entrance will make it much easier for the bees to defend their entrance as the cluster gets smaller.

If you have a kiwimana Robbing Screen, change the opening to the smallest one.

Queen excluder with comb and honey
Queen Excluder
Remove any Queen Excluders you still have on your hive. If the cluster in your hive moves up through the Excluder the queen many get left behind and die.

5. Treat

Wintering down requires that all treatments are completed, as you want to make sure your bees go in to winter with a very low count of varroa mites. Work out a way to measure the mite load in your beehive, and treat accordingly.

Always check mite levels before and after treatments to ensure the treatment worked.

Here are two methods you can use to count mites

If you have Solid bottom board ensure the hive is raised from the back, so water runs out and doesn’t collect in the hive.

What do you do?

This is a what we do, but do you have any other tips to help others. Please comment below and tell us what we are missing?

17 thoughts on “How to Prepare a Beehive for Winter In New Zealand

  1. Avatar photo
    JP says:

    Thanks Gary and Margaret for the wintering guideline, as always, a lot of tips and sound advice keeping it simple as well, very appreciated and best of luck of the winter, hoping it will be mild and not too wet !

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    Sandy says:

    Hi Gary & Margaret, just want to make sure, as per numbers 3 & 4 above, the two full sized boxes would be one box with brood, eggs, pollen and some honey and then the second box would be the honey on top, correct? So ideally all the brood in one box only?

  3. Avatar photo
    Debbie Colebourne says:

    Dear Gary & Margaret,
    We have 1 hive and our first winter my mentor has got the hive down to 1 level but we have been decimated by varroa we’ve dosed again with good results the population is low but they are active and healthy. I’m wondering if I would be best to put a second box of honey, we are in Taupo
    Love your helpful newsletter

    • Avatar photo
      Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Thanks for your comment, it all depends on how many stores you have in the bottom box.

      Check how many frames of honey the bees have, if they have a few then check again in a month and add some from your stores if needed.

      Make sure the hive is closed down, so the small cluster can fight off any wasps of robbing bees.

      If the cluster is very small the frames off honey on the top may act like huge heat sinks.

      Hope it goes well for you…Gary

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    Graham Bull says:

    Great article. I’m finding for second year while I ended summer with one full box honey above bottom box by this time second box empty, even though reduced entrance. I sometimes think it would be better to take most of honey out and feed it back over winter. Should I now take this second empty box out and just leave bottom box.

    • Avatar photo
      Gary Fawcett says:

      Thanks for the comment Graham, yes if the box is empty I would reduce the hive to a single level.

      What are the Honey stores like in the bottom? Do you think you will have enough honey for winter?

      You might want to look at feeding them?

  5. Avatar photo
    Jade says:

    Hi guys, what should you do if your bees are still occupying (with brood) over too many frames for one box? Is it ok to have the configuration above but in two boxes, we are in Blenheim central and the girls are still very active here. Thanks jade

    • Avatar photo
      Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Jade,

      If it was me, I would put a equal amount into the center of the bottom and second level and add pollen and Honey on the outside of the brood.

      Then check the brood levels in a month….Gary

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    Nik says:

    Hi guys,
    I have had an interesting first summer (needed to re-queen Dec), so bee numbers were a little low.
    However, recovered now (not heaps of bees, but active and healthy), and have some solid honey/nectar stores in the top box.
    In the bottom box, I only have 2 brood frames, and very little pollen stores, with nectar and honey in patches. I see the team bringing in pollen at the moment and stores are increasing, but nothing like full frames.
    Should I be concerned?
    In town (Hamilton) and should be plenty of pollen sources over winter…

  7. Avatar photo
    Emmanuel Farrugia says:

    Hi and thanks for this post. You have some great tips there. The side view diagram is a good idea and it gives a good perspective of what the frame layout in the hive should be.

    I thought you may like to see a video we just put together here in Aus. Covering wintering hives here but I guess it may apply to NZ too. If you get a chance have a look, I’d like to know what you think.

  8. Avatar photo
    Heather Gale says:

    We have locked down (totally closed them off) our bees a few days ago but this morning the bees were really humming and hot. A bit worried about what we should do. We have opened them up again allowing 2 bees in at a time. They are dragging out a few dead one. Appreciate any input.

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    Dani M says:

    Hi, my bees had a slow season. Coming into autumn now I have a full brood box with a queen excluder on and a honey super above which has 4 frames of honey almost fully capped and the rest are empty/being drawn. Given that most of the super is empty I was planning on reducing down to one box for the winter, and keep the frames of honey to feed back to them in the winter. Am I correct in my thinking? Advice is greatly appreciated; this is my first season keeping bees outside of a student apiary setting. Thank you

    • Avatar photo
      Margaret Groot says:

      Hi, I think that based on what you have said is that to see if they need food, you could get a top-feeder tray and give them an Autumn sugar-syrup feed…and if they drink it then they needed it. This is a good method to help gauge their ‘food’ status. We usually go into Winter with two full-depth brood boxes, but we usually have only honey in top box. But this year we have brood in boxes one and two so we have kept the honey frames around the brood in box two. We also use a hive-mat with a slot on box one so the girls can access the honey above…I scrape some cells so the bees can feed of it….this method keeps the cluster in box one but when we have brood in box two we use the hive-mat with slot on top of box two and any extra honey frames in box three…this method enables the girls to be able to clean and manage all the boxes over Winter. I have wintered down all my hives and they have four boxes on over Winter – the hive-mat with slot is on top of box two. Plus all our hives sit on mesh-baseboards with insertable/removable inspection trays so I can OAV treat through winter. The hives are on hive-stands 30cm above ground. It’s all about making it easier for us to manage them. They also have robbing-screens. Wintering down is about ensuring the girls have plenty of honey and that the hives are dry, but the bees with keep themselves warm with their clustering.
      All the best, happy for you to call if you need to ask any more questions. 0211752137
      Regards Margaret
      …its the kiwimana buzz…

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