November & December in the Apiary: The Dormant Season


As the days grow shorter and colder in November, the bees start to hunker down for the winter. With little available nectar and pollen to gather and minimal brood to tend to, the bees form a tight cluster in order to maintain a temperature of 95° in the cluster.

• By November, a healthy hive will have stored about 80 to 100 pounds of honey. Hefting (lifting) the hives will give you an idea of how much honey is left in the hive.

• If the hive is light, it is necessary to start emergency feeding. When temperatures are below 57˚, switch from liquid feed to solid food like dry sugar, candy canes or no-cook candy. Note – once you start emergency feeding procedures, you cannot stop until spring when nectar flows again.

• To prevent condensation inside the hive, place a clean burlap bag in the top of the hive. Replace if it gets damp.

• Remove any remaining queen excluders and add an entrance reducer to each hive to help with temperature control inside the hive and attach a mouse guard.

• To prevent water and snow from entering the hive, place a wedge under the back side of the hive, titling it forward.

• Establish a windbreak, on the windward side to protect the hive from winter winds. Make sure the hive is not blocked from the sun.

• Never open the hive unless the outside temperature is at least 45˚, but best practices are above 50˚.

• On warmer days, look to see which colonies are flying. If you don’t see any activity, place your ear on the hive and knock. If they are home, you should hear increased buzzing.

• If you find that your hive has died, it is important to determine why it died. If you need some assistance, ask a more experience beekeeper or search online for help. Maine State Beekeepers Association has great information on symptoms, probable causes and necessary actions or prevention.

• Around Thanksgiving time, I like to give my hives a final mite treatment. I prefer using oxalic acid when before or after the winter brood. Make sure you follow the directions on temperature and timing.


In December, refer back to the to-dos in November.
• Continue with any emergency feeding until the nectar flows again in the spring

• Replace any burlap that is damp

• Check your hives after any storms to ensure there is no damage

• Remove any dead bees that may be blocking the hive entrance

• Check for evidence of mice or other animal intruders

Start Planning for Next Year.

• Clean last year’s equipment* Repair and paint last year’s hive bodies and frames
• Order and build new frames and hive bodies
• Estimate your need for “nucs” for the spring nucs which are usually a box of 5 frames with most of the frames drawn out, honey and brood is present in the frames, it has approximately 10,000 bees and a mated queen
• Source your nucs, know the quantity available and order before the last day available
• Plan where you want to place any new spring hives and make sure they are ready before the new hive arrive.
• Order and read books and magazines about bees
• Make products from the hive and share them with your friends
• Join a bee club; get your questions answered by local beekeepers; join any trainings or events they offer.

Total time in the apiary: 1-2 hours a week.