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January Beekeeping Tips - Start the Year Strong

January Beekeeping Tips - Start the Year Strong

In our last post, we looked at what the bees are doing inside the hive during the cold winter months. It’s time now to look at what you can do to prepare for the upcoming beekeeping season and to help your bees make it through the remaining cold months ahead.

January Beekeeping Tips: Setting a Strong Foundation for the Year

When it’s cold, it’s best to disturb your bees as little as possible. This means you’ll want to look at what’s going on around the hive and in your apiary to make an educated guess as to what is taking place inside the hive. You won’t see bees flying around except on warmer days when they make short cleansing flights.

Bees don’t forage during the winter; therefore, their food stores could be running low, and they may require supplemental feeding. You can lay pollen patties or fondant on top of the frames over the cluster of bees. If the cluster is split between two brood boxes, be sure not to split the cluster with the patties or fondant. Lay the pollen patty or fondant on top of the upper brood boxes’ frames over the center of the bee cluster. You can also feed syrup which is easily and conveniently accomplished inside the hive with a top feeder or a frame feeder.

Take a look around the hive’s entrance. If you see dead bees on the ground, this can actually be a good sign. It means that live bees inside the hive are keeping up with their housekeeping chores by removing the dead bees from inside the hive.

What else can you be doing to help the bees and to help you prepare for the upcoming season?

  • Continue to make colony inspections on warmer days when temperatures are at least 45-50°.
  • Remove snow and dead bees from the entrances.
  • Check entrances for signs of damage by animals. If mice have been chewing on entrance reducers or mouse guards, patch the damage by covering it with hardware cloth or tin. Be sure to leave an opening large enough for the housekeeping bees to pull dead bees from the hive. If mice are a problem for you, make plans to purchase the Bee Smart Ultimate Bottom Board for your hive this year. It will help take care of your mouse problems and so much more.
  • If you have experienced high winds, check the apiary to ensure all hives still have their lids. To prevent winds from blowing lids from the hives, especially if you live in an area with frequent high winds, you can weigh them down using anything heavy such as large rocks or cinder blocks.
  • It’s a great time to clean equipment, make frame repairs and take care of tool maintenance. While doing these chores, you can determine if you need to make any equipment or tool purchases for the upcoming season. Build new frames that will be needed during the upcoming season.
  • If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to order bees. Our NUCs continue to be available at 2020 prices. Be sure to order yours before the 2021 prices go into effect.
  • If you intend to move your hives, now is the perfect time ... when the bees are all tucked away safely inside the hive.
  • Combine hives when the queen has failed or when a colony is small. (check out these posts - Finding the Queen and 6 Ways to Tell if Your Hive is Queenless – for more information on determining if your queen is present.) This activity should only be done on warmer days.
  • When bees are confined to the hive for extended periods and cannot take cleansing flights, they may develop Nosema disease. Treat the colony if Nosema is present.

Although you’ll have very few interactions with your bees during the cold winter months, these activities will help your bees survive the remaining winter months and help you prepare for the upcoming season. Don’t forget to use this time to increase your knowledge about bees and beekeeping, as well – read as much as you can, watch videos, take a class, attend beekeeping meetings and watch videos.

General Questions About Beekeeping Tips

1. Why is it important to disturb the bees as little as possible during the winter months?

Disturbing bees during the winter can disrupt their cluster, causing them to expend more energy to regroup and maintain warmth. This can stress the colony and deplete their food stores faster. Minimal disturbance helps them conserve energy and maintain a stable internal hive environment.

2. What is the best way to provide supplemental feeding to bees in winter?

The best way to provide supplemental feeding in winter is by placing pollen patties or fondant on top of the frames over the bee cluster. Avoid splitting the cluster between brood boxes. Feeding syrup should be done using a top feeder or frame feeder inside the hive, but only when temperatures are above 50°F to prevent excess moisture issues.

3. What should I do if I find dead bees at the hive entrance?

Finding dead bees at the hive entrance is normal and can be a good sign that live bees are maintaining housekeeping by removing dead bees from inside the hive.

4. How can I protect my hives from high winds and animal damage?

Protect hives from high winds by weighing down the lids with heavy objects such as large rocks or cinder blocks. To prevent animal damage, such as mice chewing on entrance reducers, use hardware cloth or tin to cover damaged areas, leaving an opening for bees to exit. Consider using the Bee Smart Ultimate Bottom Board to address mouse problems.

5. What are some winter maintenance tasks for beekeepers to prepare for the upcoming season?

Winter maintenance tasks include cleaning equipment, making frame repairs, and maintaining tools. Beekeepers should also build new frames, order bees if not already done, and plan to move or combine hives if necessary.

Local beekeepers are a valuable source of information about specifics you need to be aware of in your local area, so be sure to interact with them whenever possible, especially if you are new to beekeeping. See you next time!

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