Bringing Overwintered Honeybees Out in the Spring

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Our bees have been safely tucked away and cozy in our little bee barn. Now that the temperatures are warming up and the sun is shining more, it’s time for them to head back outside. Bringing overwintered honeybees out in the spring is an exciting event that truly marks the beginning of a new season.

Two bee hives. Bringing overwintered honeybees out in the spring.

Overwintering Bees

Winter is long, dark, and cold, especially here in the interior of Alaska. Not just for us, but for our animals as well. This includes our honeybee colonies. They have spent six long months being overwintered.

You can read more about how we overwinter our honeybees in this post. We keep them in an insulated little building that we call the Bee Barn. They are moved into their winter home in October and stay there until the end of March.

The winter is spent monitoring them closely, every day by keeping an eye on the temperature of each hive and the humidity levels. We also watch their behavior with occasional checks under each lid and make sure they still have enough of the sugar boards that we provided for them at the beginning of winter.

We anxiously wait to see if they will survive the long winter and thankfully this year, they did! Here’s how we get ready and bring them out in the spring.

Preparing a Location

Because winter is still in full swing up here, we first have to prepare our hive location. Our beehives are not far from our house, on a large, wood platform. We have never had an issue with the bees being so close to us. They go about their business as do we. It’s exciting to be able to see them all summer long and enjoy their presence.

Several feet of snow has to be shoveled off of the platform, which is about twelve feet long and five feet wide. The platform must be cleared to set the hive boxes on and for us to be able to access them for feeding and monitoring until the snow melts in another month or so.

Once the snow has been cleared, we need to mask the snow in front of the platform. We have kept a couple of large buckets full of wood ash from our woodstove whenever we clean it out during the winter. We spread this wood ash all over several feet of the snow that is directly in front of the platform.

This is because the bees will otherwise become confused by all of the white when they fly out of the hives. They will be disoriented and accidentally fly down into the snow and die. By sprinkling wood ash all around, they will see the dark contrast and fly up instead.

Making Sugar Water

The bees will not be able to forage for food for some time yet so we must provide it for them. They survived all winter off of their honey stores and the sugar board that we made for them. Now we make sugar water and put it in special feeders on the hive boxes for them to eat until the first of the spring foliage provides for them.

Sugar water feeder on a beehive. Bringing overwintered honeybees out in the spring.

We create a mixture that is two parts sugar to one part water. It’s important that the water is not hot when it is given to the bees. We mix it all up in a five-gallon bucket, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then we let it sit until the water is room temperature and pour it into the feeders.

We will monitor these feeders and refill them as needed until the bees no longer need them and can forage for nectar instead, usually around the end of May.

Insulation

The hives will still need some insulation to help keep them warm until the temperature gets above freezing. We cut pieces of two-inch-thick insulating foam and attach them to all four sides of each hive. An entrance reducer also helps to keep the hive boxes warm. These will stay in place until sometime in June when the temperatures are consistently warm.

Beehive with insulation. Overwintering honeybees in Alaska.

Moving the Hives Outside

Once we are all ready, it’s time to physically move the hives back outside. The first step is to cover the entrance on each hive so no bees fly out while we’re carrying them. We use a strip of duct tape to cover the small entrance at the bottom of the hives. Don’t worry, it’s only for a few minutes and they still have air flow through the lid.

Next, it takes two adults to carry the boxes, one at a time, across our property to the platform. My husband and I share this task. The boxes are surprisingly heavy, full of bees and combed out frames. We lift them together with extreme care and slowly walk across the yard (about twenty yards) and slowly place them on the platform.

After individually moving each hive (we have five), we remove the duct tape and watch the bees come out for the first time in over six months! We quickly attach the insulation and put the sugar water feeders on and then leave them to get acclimated to their new spring home.

Insulated beehive. Overwintering honeybees in Alaska.

Bringing Overwintered Honeybees Out in the Spring

Our bees have survived the long winter and are back out in our yard for us to enjoy! In just a few months, we will be extracting their sweet honey but in the meantime, we will continue to take care of them. Our honeybees are precious to us and we’re so happy to watch them flying around again. Bringing overwintered honeybees out in the spring marks the beginning of the new season. And is a sweet reward for all of the hard work.

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