February in the Apiary
Ahhh...the flowers are blooming while I go out to check my bees in shorts and flip flops...
No wait, it’s still middle of winter.
This time of year, our bees are vacillating between hunkering down in a cluster during the cold times and doing cleansing flights (defecating, yellow spots everywhere), searching for water (and maybe some food) and perhaps sunbathing, when the temps get into the upper 40’s lower 50’s. I’m getting calls from folks who are worried about the honeybees warming themselves on the sides of their houses on sunny afternoons.
Although you might be tempted to open up your hives on the warmer days for a quick inspection, it’s usually not a good idea. They may break their cluster and they may not get back together quickly enough before a cold night with lots of ensuing losses. Additionally, you’ll open up the careful caulking job they did with propolis in the fall and allow further breezes through the hive. Finally, there’s really nothing you can do at this time.
Better to observe from the outside. If you’re seeing activity on the warmer days, it’s alive. If not, you can give the cover a rap with your knuckles. If you hear a “bzzzzz”, again, they’re alive. We’ve recently heard suggestions of utilizing a stethoscope rather than knocking on the hive to reduce stress on the cluster. If there are no signs of life, even on a warm day, I’ll open the top cover to peek inside. If the hive is dead, I generally block the entrance to eliminate robbing later in the spring until I can figure out what happened (we don’t want to spread disease through robbing.)
Next, you can grossly check their stores. Carefully lifting one edge of the hive (or trying to lift it) determine whether the hive is “significantly heavy”. It’ll be lighter than in the fall (they’ve been eating for several months) but still heavy. If it’s light, consider emergency feeding. If you have frames of capped honey (disease free, preferably your own) you can insert them next to the cluster. You can make some fondant (faux candy) (recipe from internet) and place under the inner cover or between bars in TBH or pour some granulated table sugar or drivert sugar on the inner cover around the center hole. If all else fails, you can use a boardman feeder on the front of the hive, or above the inner cover protected by another hive body or a top feeder with very heavy syrup (1/1 or 1/2 water:sugar (more dilute solutions might stimulate brood rearing and release too much moisture into the hive with would make the conditions even worse)). If feeding syrup, ensure there is abundant ventilation to avoid condensation and watch for dysentery.
Finally, think about changes you want to make this year. Do you want to order more bees and increase, add a different style of hive, add or renew woodenware, move your hives, add RFID tags to each of your bees. Any changes or additions, you’ll want to start doing research (suppliers and dates etc.) And …….. keep a longing eye out for the first crocuses or willows, or maybe even some cherry trees.
Thanks to Allen for these February notes.