Live Stream Edit #3: Opening Beehives in The Winter is Okay With Me

Here’s another edited low-fi live stream from my beeyard (26 minutes, not much edited down). This time I check on some bees with dry sugar, add a pollen patty and I mess around with my smoker.

There’s a lot of talking in this video (hence the new Talkin’ Blues category), which is sort of what I’m leaning towards these days. In any case, here are the highlights from the video:

00:00​ — Intro babbling. Lighting smoker.

02:45​ — First peek inside a hive. Alarm pheromones.

03:40​ — Bulging honey for the bees. Not close to starving.

04:15​ — Another peek at bees with plenty of honey.

04:30​ — Say hello to a protein patty.

04:55​ — Backing off some defensive bees.

05:15​ — Another hive, one I’m concerned about.

05:45​ — Inside the hive.

05:50​ — More bulging honey frames.

06:00​ — Nursing a weak colony is usually pointless.

06:40​ — Smoking the bees and adding a protein patty.

07:10​ — Running from defensive bees.

This is the part where some are going to say I’m a bad beekeeper. The bees obviously want to be left alone, so I should leave them alone instead of riling them up and letting all the heat out of the hive. Yup, that’s not a bad assessment. But keep in mind that bad beekeeping is a step to learning well. I give myself permission to make mistakes and do foolish things once in a while. Most of the time, the bees can take it, and I become a better beekeeper by allowing myself to be a bad beekeeper. Keep in mind, too, that I’ve got enough experience to know what I can get away with. One might look at some of the things I do and think I’m stupid, but it’s a measured and calculated stupidity. And it works.

07:40​ — Another look inside a hive.  Discussion on how I’m concerned about the colony.

09:50​ — Another colony with lots of honey.

10:10​ — Why I’m okay with opening my hives in the winter.)

11:00​ — Bees digging into the pollen patty.  A word on when the queen begins laying in the new year.  Some talk about small-clustering Russian bees.

12:00​ — Speculating on why the bees in one hive abandoned their bottom deep of honey.

13:45​ — Bees are not flying today, but I have seen bees flying in cold 5°C weather before.

14:20​ — Dempster hive pillow to keep the bees warm and dry (this is replacing my moisture quilts).

15:20​ — Peeling duct tape off a hive.

16:10​ — Cracking into a hive to check on the dry sugar.

16:55​ — Using the smoker.

17:15​ — Why I think it’s safe to open the hives in the winter (at times).

17:40​ — A peek inside a hive with dry sugar over the top bars. Are they eating the sugar or tossing it?  (The answer is in the video.)

19:35​ — The “Mountain Camp” method of sugar feeding, or simply dry sugar feeding.

20:45​ — Explaining how the Dempster Pillow works.

21:25​ — Talkin’ about my bees.

22:30​ — Talkin’ about my smoker, how I put it out, etc.  More yakking. A summation.

24:30​ — A word about pollen patties.

00:00 — Intro babbling. Lighting smoker.

02:45 — First peek inside a hive. Alarm pheromones.

03:40 — Bulging honey for the bees. Not close to starving.

04:15 — Another peek of bees with plenty of honey.

04:30 — Say hello to a protein patty.

04:55 — Backing off some defensive bees.

05:15 — Another hive, one I’m concerned about.

05:45 — Inside the hive.

05:50 — More bulging honey frames.

06:00 — Nursing a weak colony is usually pointless.

06:40 — Smoking the bees and adding a protein patty.

07:10 — Running from defensive bees. (See Postscript #1.)

07:40 — Another look inside a hive. Discussion about I’m concerned about the colony.

09:50 — Another colony with lots of honey.

10:10 — Why I’m okay with opening my hives in the winter. (See Postscript #2.)

11:00 — Bees digging into the pollen patty. A word on when the queen begins laying in the new year. Some talk about small-clustering Russian bees.

12:00 — Speculating on why the bees in one hive abandoned their bottom deep of honey.

13:45 — Bees are not flying today, but I have seen bees flying in cold 5°C weather before.

14:20 — Dempster hive pillow to keep the bees warm and dry (this is replacing my moisture quilts).

15:20 — Peeling duct tape off a hive.

16:10 — Cracking into a hive to check on the dry sugar.

16:55 — Using the smoker.

17:15 — Why I think it’s safe to open the hives in the winter (at times).

17:40 — A peek inside a hive with dry sugar over the top bars. Are they eating the sugar or tossing it? (The answer is in the video.)

19:35 — The “Mountain Camp” method of sugar feeding, or simply dry sugar feeding.

20:45 — Explaining how the Dempster Pillow works.

21:25 — Talkin’ about my bees.

22:30 — Talkin’ about my smoker, how I put it out, etc. More yakking. A summation.

24:30 — A word about pollen patties.


I know many people who won’t open their hives in the winter. It’s what they were taught when they started beekeeping and they stick to it. I would say that’s a smart practice.

I find it better for myself to check on my bees if I’m concerned about them when leaving them alone could potentially be worse for them (e.g., starvation, rodent in the hive, disease, etc.). I don’t think there’s much wrong with leaving the bees alone as much as possible, as long as they’re not ignored. Despite what I show in my videos, I leave my bees alone most of the time, even in the summer when some people tear their hives apart every eight days to check for swarm cells (a practice I’ve never gotten into, though it’s a good practice). What’s not shown in my videos are all the times I leave my bees alone.

Desktop readers can scroll down to the very bottom of the right column menu to see how often I looked inside my hives when I started beekeeping. The answer is: all the time.

However, opening a beehive on a regular basis might be the best way to learn about honey bees. My first three years of beekeeping had me sticking my face in my hives way more than I should have — but I’m glad I did because I learned by looking, paying attention and noticing. I still probably shouldn’t mess with my bees as much as I do at certain times of the year, but I’m curious. I want to know what’s going on in there. So I open the hives and I take a look.

Also, consider where I live: The island of Newfoundland. It’s not easy to get together with other beekeepers in Newfoundland because there aren’t that many around — and the island is huge. Most beeks live so far away from each other, it takes half a day just to get to their house. I can’t depend on those kinds of interactions with Newfoundland beekeepers to up my game. If I hadn’t opened my hives as often as I did when I started, it would have taken me forever to learn anything here.

I know beekeepers who barely open their hives, and honestly, I can tell they barely open their hives. Someone who is five years into their beekeeping, for instance, probably should know what a queen cup is, and what the difference is between a queen cup, a queen cell and a drone cell. To someone who hardly opens their hives, all those things look the same — that, or they don’t even notice them. But those things aren’t the same and it’s really good to know which is which.

I still meet up with beekeepers who have been at it for while and really don’t do much other than leave their bees alone. They let their bees swarm whenever they want to swarm. (Most swarms in Newfoundland, if not re-hived immediately, will die — and this okay?) They take honey from the bees when they can. The colonies that swarmed go into winter weaker (another great way to kill off some bees) and they more or less just “let the bees be bees.” I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not illegal. But to me, that’s bad beekeeping.

I’m quietly astonished by how often I hear this kind of story from people who happen to have bees, telling me all this like it’s totally normal for them. Totally normal to not pay enough attention to their bees so they swarm every summer because “that’s what bees do”? Hmm. Is this what happens when people are afraid, or just don’t bother, to look inside their hives every couple weeks?

So yeah, I’m a big proponent of digging into those hives whenever possible. Most of the time, the bees can take it.

That’s the main reason I don’t follow the rule that states one shouldn’t open a hive until it’s at least 15°C / 59°F. I’d never open my hives if I had to wait for that temperature. It’s over 15°C in Newfoundland for maybe three months of the year. So that’s the only time I’m allowed to open my hives? Forget about it.

In any case, it’s best to leave the bees alone in the winter if possible, but in my experience, the bees can handle a cold breeze once in a while. In fact, it might even toughen them up and turn them into a robust colony. Coddling bees is way overrated. But that’s just me. There’s enough room in the world of beekeeping to accommodate most eccentricities.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.