Sept. 16, 2021

"Winter Is Coming" aka Planning For Winter (039)

There’s a saying – Winter Begins in August and it’s already September. It’s time to start thinking about getting ready for winter. What can and what should you be thinking about? Well, if winter is cold where you are, can you move your bees to...

There’s a saying – Winter Begins in August and it’s already September. It’s time to start thinking about getting ready for winter.

What can and what should you be thinking about? Well, if winter is cold where you are, can you move your bees to somewhere that’s warm? If moving bees is at all possible.

What about indoor wintering? It used to be popular and it’s coming back, but the indoors are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be. Is that possible?

And are your bees winter hardy, or are they softies? And can you fix that yet this year with a tougher queen? And absolutely get varroa under control. Yesterday.

What about food? How was/is/will be the fall flow this fall? Enough, not enough, need more? And if not, how much will you have to find for them?

And what equipment will you need when you really get ready for winter? Get it now, or it may be gone. It’s time to start thinking about winter, isn’t it.



We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 39 – Winter is Coming aka Planning for Winter


Kim: Hey, Jim, how are you doing?

Jim: I'm actually pretty good. Thanks for asking, Kim.

Kim: How was your weekend?

Jim: I had a busy weekend. I went to a meeting, but everything worked out well. I'm back home now ready to talk to you about bees.

Kim: Well, while you were gone, something came up. I'm sitting here, and it's 90 degrees today. It's late August, but you know what? Winter is coming. It's time to start thinking about that.

Jim: I understand that very well. The cicadas, the webworms, just the crispness and that hot air this late summer, isn't it, Kim?

Kim: It is. You know, our old friend, Ann Harmon, had a saying she said, "Winter begins in August." It's August. I tell you what, I got some bullet points here, run by them, see what you think, and then down the road, we'll get to these in more detail.

Jim: All right, I would like that.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: We're here today at Honey Bee Obscura to talk about first thoughts on winter.

Introduction: You're listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts, Kim Flottum and Jim Tew, explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Kim: I guess, Jim, the first thought I have on the first sets of winter is that, what are the things I need to think about? Like I said earlier, here's some high points, won't go into much detail on them. If this is going to be your first winter or you've moved from now you got a cold winter to now you have no winter, these are some things that we're going to go into detail down the road on schedule as you need to start thinking about them. We need to hit the high points now so that if there's something you need to do, you'll have some time.

Jim: Kim, I know where you're coming from, because when you start this discussion, my first response is denial. Summer can't be over, Kim. Why have you come up with this cockamamie idea that today is the latter part of August, 90 degrees out, but you're exactly right. This is that window, and you have to have the annual management experience to know that this is the window you have to begin the process of getting your bees ready for the big dearth.

Kim: You know, there's a couple of things to think about. One of them is there's a whole lot of people listening to this that don't have winter.

Jim: That's true.

Kim: You're from Alabama.

Jim: Yes, I am.

Kim: Did you get to make many snowmen when you were a kid?

Jim: I did not, but if we bought a lot of Christmas cards that had snowmen on them, and we pretended.

Kim: Then, there's people who have snow all winter, let's say, I've had enough of this, I'm picking them up, putting them on a trailer, and I'm taking them to Florida because I don't want snow all winter. There's something to think about. Is that an option in your operation?

Jim: I have done that. That's a notion for a younger person, Kim. As an older person, I'm not going to be hauling bees from here to Florida anymore. It was an exciting event when I did it all those years ago. I've got stories that could keep us talking. We all do. If you've hauled bees anywhere, you immediately have your own stories. Hauling them to Florida? You're just running, you big baby, you're afraid of winter.

Kim: Yes.


Jim: You're a Wisconsinite, why are you hiding from it?

Kim: You know, I'm not there anymore.

Jim: Well, you didn't get far enough away.

Kim: Another thing to think about is indoor winter. That's becoming pretty popular. Is that an option?

Jim: If you're asking me as a rhetorical question, it's not an option for me because the demands and the technicalities are still beyond me, but it is becoming more common, and as the commercial guys work out the bugs and as clever people say, "Well, I can make a ventilation system that keeps CO2 levels under control." I can see in the future that it wouldn't be impossible for there to be a small climate-controlled room that could be set up at a utility building or something, but we're not there yet, but we're close.

Kim: Do you know somebody that has one of those already? See, another option is to haul them down the road a bit, instead of having gone all the way to Florida, maybe you'd just go to the next county.

Jim: I see where you're going from. You don't build the room yourself. You go to a rental unit almost, to someone who stores them for you.

Kim: This time of year, you got some time to search those people out, check out, is that a possibility, so they can make a plan. You can make a plan.

Jim: Talk to us about that, Kim.

Kim: I don't know, because--

Jim: I don't know either.

Kim: I'm going to tell you, there aren't a whole lot of people that are doing this yet, as you said, but that was last year. All sorts of things happened since last spring to this fall. There may be somebody in the next county over who was thinking about it.

Jim: That would be an interesting future, wouldn't it? If there are future beekeepers whose primary income is protecting your bees for you through the winter.

Kim: There you go. We could put one between here and Wooster and take the Northern half of Ohio.

Jim: I don't think so, Kim, I'm going to let somebody else do that. That younger guy I've talked about or that younger woman, when I say guy, I mean all of us. I don't know about the whole winter thing on that regard, but go ahead, you mentioned, you brought it up, indoor wintering, yes, it's a possibility, always has been. In the 1920s, 1910, 1920s, people were bringing them in then putting them in cellars and they actually buried their bees. Now, we're really off the subject. This is beyond what most of us are going to be doing. In the past, I do want to boldly say we were much more concerned about winter than we have been for the last 30 years.

Kim: That brings up the best point of all, I think, is what kind of bees you have? Do you have bees that thrive on winter?

Jim: That's a good point.

Kim: Small clusters don't eat much, small-tight clusters, and they don't eat much, and come spring, they got half their food left. Do you have some of those bees that are Mediterranean bound? They look at winter as a real challenge. It's cold, there's not enough food, I'm raising brood, those sorts of things. One thing might be is what kind of bees you got. You probably can't do much for that this year, but if you're requeening next spring or if your bees didn't make it and you got to start over, think about bees to do well in winter and leaning on Russians and Carniolan here primarily, Caucasians to a degree, but there's something to keep in mind.

Jim: I am trying to keep this in mind, and you've got me puzzling because it's common for this time of the year for queens to be cheaper if they're ever going to be cheaper, and if not cheaper, maybe available. We are suggesting that people start preparation soon enough, that if you've got a motley colony, you might could still get a queen in that, probably still get one. Not really the best idea in the world but still a possible idea. For those of you with a few hives of bees and one or two of them are not good queen-led colonies, it's still possible to replace that.

Sponsor: Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscure podcast. For over 40 years, Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many better be employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalogs to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of, "Beekeepers serving beekeepers." See for yourself at

Kim: The other thing coming up down the road is you’ve got all of your troubles under control. I'm speaking of Varroa and small hive beetle, primarily Varroa, especially in the viruses. Now, it's August. Now is when you really want to slam the door on Varroa.

Jim: Now, you're scaring me because that really is important. How we slammed that door, I guess, is the talk of future segments. Varroa, we’ve got to always have that thing under control. We keep Varroa first, don't we, and then manage our bees second.

Kim: Basically, yes. With 90 degrees, outside temperature, that takes some of the Varroa control treatments off the table.

Jim: It takes me off the same table – too - a lot, unless you're out there really early or really late. I shouldn't talk about it so much come, Kim, but one beekeeper is many beekeepers in their lives. I'm just not the beekeeper I used to be in many ways with endurance and stamina and resiliency. More often than not, now, I'm going to make a lot of promises and know that I should be doing things, but yes, right now, it's hot out there. I guess, it’s an opportunity to control Varroa once and for all. Not control, we should never use that word around Varroa, should we, Kim. Suppress.

Kim: There you go.

Jim: There's a word, I think, it's what we're actually doing because we never really control it. We just suppress it for a while, harass it for a while, and wait for it to come back.

Kim: Another thing to think about when, I was at Wisconsin way back when, speaking of Wisconsin, one of the things that we used to do was we would group colonies, four on a pallet tight bunch. That way, every colony had one-quarter of its side or half of its side protected alongside the narrow side, protected or close and comfortable with another colony. That made a lot of difference when it came to cold Wisconsin winters. Could that work here? But to do that, you're going to have to move those colonies, and now might be the time to move them so that when you get ready to do something down the road in October, November, they're already prepared for that.

Jim: I think that's an excellent point because if you're going to really move those colonies around like that, you've got to reposition them, take them somewhere else, a mile, two, three miles away, or are you going to have a lot of drifting or let them drift and let them recover from it. This is the window to make changes in your colony's location if you're going to store them like that. Yes, that was a common procedure to keep those hives side by side on a pallet. Over in Iowa, I've got photographs. We probably discussed this in the winter packing segment that we did a few weeks ago, but those guys had big boxes and they fill it full of shavings. Putting those colonies together like that is is beneficial to them.

Kim: Now, you've got the window to do that, get the pallets, get them moved, get them situated so that when it is time to offer more protection. Well, there's a whole lot of things. I'm making sure they've got enough food, but we're just starting the goldenrod flow here, and I'll have to wait and see of that goes, if that goes well, I won't have to feed. If it doesn't go well, then I'm going to have to feed. I'm going to be checking at least a couple of times a week to see how it's going, watching. I grow a lot of goldenrod in my yard. I got a quarter of my yard in goldenrod, and I watch the bee visitation on it. If it's really good, then I'm hoping that it's working. Bees visit goldenrod whether they're getting anything or not. It's not a good measure of how much is going back to the hive.

Jim: That's a subject for a different time, Kim, because sometimes that goldenrod disappoints me. I almost wonder if the fall asters offer more than the goldenrod, but don't get off on that. What I want to do is say point well taken on the fact that we don't know what the fall flow is going to be at this point. We do know, what number would you use? 60, 70 pounds of honey here in the Midwest that we need to have on our colonies and probably three-fourths of that in the south. You got to have food reserves now because the big dearth is coming, either by cold or just by no plants blooming. If you don't have it, wait to see what you get from goldenrod, but then just the moment you think goldenrod or fall flowers aren't going to do it for you, you need to start feeding. Then, that's yet another conversation sometime because feeding isn't as simple as you might think.

Kim: I got a question for you.

Jim: Oh, no.

Kim: 30 years ago, how much did a deep super full of honey weigh, and how much does it weigh to you today?

Jim: Oh, well, 30 years ago, it weighed 70 pounds, and today it weighs 170 pounds. It's exactly the same weight.


Kim: When you're guesstimating how much honey is on there, guesstimate it's 30 years ago, not today.

Jim: Yes, that's exactly right. We talk about age too much, Kim, but I guess we need to sometimes have a younger beekeeper here who doesn't hurt every time they move, but that's neither here nor there. It is what it is. I still love the bee thing, but we don't yet know how much to feed because that just opens a whole door or you're going to be feeding straight sugar syrup. Do you have some honey set by that you're saving for this? Can you equalize colonies? The sky is the limit, but they got to have food, Kim, you're right on that. They got to have a specific amount of food.

Kim: You brought up a number of ways to feed. I think we need to look at that in detail here pretty soon because some of them take more equipment and more time than others, but they end up being maybe a better way to do it.

Jim: It's unfortunate that I've had experience feeding bees because that implies that I got needy bees, right, because they have a needy beekeeper.

Kim: Well, you're an urban beekeeper, and you don't have much forage out there. I guess you can look at it that way.

Jim: Well, I got grass, they got plenty of grass. Let them go make a living on it.

Kim: All right. What have we missed here? First thoughts on winter. There's a lot of things to start thinking about. You got some time.

Jim: One of the things you mentioned a bit ago that you didn't go into is that you may need to acquire stuff. If you want winter packing, not that you going to put it on, but that you want to get it before everybody else got it and beat you to it. If you're going to buy winter packing boxes, or if you're going over to a big box store and pick up some insulatatory material, why don't you go ahead and be getting that ready? Why would you wait to order all this from bee supply companies to find out that people who did order at the end of August have beaten you to it, and now you can't get it.

Kim: Yes, good thought. Be ahead of the pack. There are things, pre-Made winter-top, cardboard, and insulation. There are insulated covers. There's a lot of good things that you can get them now, like you said.

Jim: We spent 15 minutes telling people that it's still summer, but winter is coming, and this is your window. You need to be making your move on beginning the process of admitting that winter is coming. Don't wait till it's there.

Kim: Now that you listened to this, there's no excuse.

Jim: Oh, don't say that because I'm not going to hop up and go do it. I'm going to be the guy who thinks I can still squeeze out to middle of September.

Kim: All right.

Jim: I'd like to say that I really appreciate everyone who listens to us ramble. If you got the ideas, all right, if you've got a topic that you can't find anybody else dumb enough to discuss, let us know, and we'll probably take a shot at it. Kim, I really appreciate people who tune in and listen. I wish they had subscribed because that reassures the people who fund us in this, so we can keep doing it.

Kim: Send us some questions. We're just sitting here twiddling our thumbs because we are not getting enough questions.

Jim: Don't say that. What are you going to do with questions? If you get them, then you got to have answers, Kim.

Kim: Oh, well, I'll send them to you.

Jim: Okay. All right. That'll work well. All right. Kim, I'll see you next Thursday at this time. We'll talk about something else just as important as this was today.

Kim: All right. Take it easy.

Jim: All right. Enjoyed it.

[00:17:27] [END OF AUDIO]