You started a hive for the first time in 2015. Now it’s winter time, but spring is quickly approaching. What should you be doing, thinking about, or preparing for this time of year? The list is long. Luckily I will be on the D&B Garden Show with the lovely Debbie Cook to talk about this in detail. Tune in on Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 10 a.m.
Until then, ruminate on these February tidbits for thought:
Are my bees still alive? Bees aren’t flying around during the cold months of winter, so it can be tempting to crack open your hive to see if your bees are still buzzing. I would suggest NOT doing this, but do a simple “knock test.” Put your ear up to the hive box and knock (like you are knocking on a door) on the side of the box. Just one swift one will do. Do you hear a sudden buzz? If so, your hive still has living bees. If not, their population may have dwindled or they might be completely dead.
Winter isn’t over yet. Do your bees have enough food to get through winter? You can check the weight of the overall hive. A light hive is close to starving. A heavy hive indicates there is still food stores for the bees to eat. If the hive is light, consider making a candy board to help them get through the rest of winter.
Was your Varroa mite count high (3%+) going into fall/winter? If so, take advantage of the opportunity to kill some mites using a great, more natural option – oxalic acid.
Losing colonies over winter is normal… to an extent. It is relatively normal for a beekeeper to lose ¼ or ⅓ of their colonies over winter. Losing far more than that likely indicates high Varroa mite levels or starvation due to over harvesting honey.
Some of your hives may have died over winter. Don’t kick yourself too much, but do some investigating to determine why. Did you find frames with bees heads in the cells and their little butts sticking out? If so, they likely starved.
In this case, clean out the hive and reuse the equipment. If you notice lots of really dark frames with thick cell walls, foul smell, or anything just odd, you ought to get the opinion of an experienced beekeeper to determine if disease is involved. This may disable you from reusing some or all the equipment.
Swarm season is not far away! Take note of where bees are clustering in the hive. If the cluster is in your top hive box, consider swapping it with the bottom box (reversing their locations). This gives the cluster room to continue moving upward and can help delay swarming.
Some plants will begin to bloom (yah! spring!), but there are still very limited food sources for the honeybees in our area in March. Not to mention that the weather is finicky this time of year. Start feeding your bees! Sugar syrup is a good option when the highs reach about 60 degrees. Click here to learn how to make a sugar syrup for your bees.
These lists are not all-inclusive. There lots of other things to be considering in February and March. I like the list of tips in the “What should a beekeeper be doing now?” section on the homepage of the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club website, idabees.org. It is crucial for us as beekeepers to be thinking a couple of months ahead at all times. Therefore, I am already thinking about March and what I need to have ready to go when that time comes.
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!