Best Management Practices (BMP) for Ontario Beekeepers' in Advance of Winter

>Successful wintering in modern beekeeping requires thorough management of honey bee colonies. Beekeepers should implement best management practices for both outdoor and indoor wintering of honey bee colonies in Ontario.

Honey bee colonies in temperate regions of the world are managed for a period of inactivity during winter. To optimize winter survival rates, honey bee colonies must be managed to ensure adequate health, strength and food stores. In any beekeeping operation, there will always be some losses during the winter. The key to any sustainable beekeeping operation is keeping this level of winter loss as low as possible, ideally below 15 per cent.

This document outlines OMAFRA's recommendations for Best Management Practices that beekeepers should follow when wintering honey bee colonies, both outdoors and indoors. This document is not intended as a detailed set of instructions to build and operate a wintering facility for honey bees, nor guarantee honey bee colonies will not experience overwinter losses.

Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Wintering Honey Bee Colonies in Ontario

It is recommended that beekeepers implement the following best management practices for both outdoor and indoor wintering of honey bee colonies in Ontario.

  1. Honey bee colonies must have sufficient feed. Providing sufficient food stores will minimize the chances of starvation for a healthy, populous colony.
    • Prior to winter, honey bee colonies should weigh at least 32 kilograms or 70 pounds for a single brood chamber and 45 kilograms or 100 pounds for a double brood chamber.
    • A full sized colony typically requires 15 liters or 4 gallons of supplement feed.
    • Colonies must be fed immediately after the fall honey crop is removed.
    • Colonies should be fed thick syrup of either a 2-to-1 ratio of white sugar to water or 70 per cent sucrose.
  2. Honey bee colonies must be populous going into winter. Bees use their own bodies as insulation, therefore a large cluster of bees will be able to keep warm during the winter without using as much energy and feed. The more populous the colony, the more likely it is to make it to spring.
    • In cold regions of Ontario, seven to eight frames of bees in a full sized colony are ideal.
  3. Manage honey bee pest and disease (in particular varroa mites) throughout the beekeeping season and ensure that pests and disease are below treatment thresholds in advance of winter.
    • If honey bee colonies require treatment, choose the appropriate, legally registered treatment and apply according to label instructions.
    • Treat early. To optimize winter survival rates, it is crucial that varroa levels are below the 3 per cent threshold in late summer and early fall.

    Please refer to OMAFRA's treatment recommendations for more information.

    Outdoor Wintering

  4. Honey bee colonies kept outdoors must be insulated.
    • Wrap or insulate honey bee colonies for winter using one, or a combination, of the following materials: paper, cardboard, insulated plastic, styrofoam, or wooden boxes filled with wood shavings.
    • Place the material on or around the exterior of the colony for insulation/windbreak; reduce the size of the colony entrance; and ensure adequate ventilation.

    Indoor Wintering

  5. The facility housing the honey bee colonies must have a system for temperature control.
    • The temperature inside the structure housing wintering honey bee colonies should be maintained at approximately 5°C plus or minus 1°C. Below this temperature range, honey bees may consume more of their food reserves and above this range, honey bees may become overly active.
    • It is recommended that a temperature control system is used for maintaining the temperature of the facility.
    • A back-up power supply should be used in case of emergency.
  6. The indoor storage facility must be adequately ventilated. Honey bee colonies produce large amounts of moisture, heat and carbon dioxide during respiration. When multiple colonies are wintered indoors, there must be adequate ventilation of the storage facility to remove moisture, heat and carbon dioxide.
    • The ventilation systems must bring fresh air into the building, thoroughly mix the air in the building and exhaust moist and stagnant air.
  7. The indoor storage facility must remain as dark as possible. Honey bees are stimulated by light. Therefore, it is important that light, noise, vibrations and other stimuli are minimized so that the honey bees are not disturbed.
    • Light should be minimized or avoided by using one, or a combination, of the following:
      1. Light traps around openings such as vents
      2. Two sets of doors for entry to the building (vestibule)
      3. Red interior lighting (only used when necessary)
      4. Window coverings

Resources - More information can be found using the following resources:

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300