This blog explains how I keep bees. It works for me, it might not work for you. Use my methods at your own risk. Always wear protective clothing and use a smoker when working bees.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We are approaching the worst time of the winter

Hives in winter, there are bees on the black box top entrances

Pouring sugar on a sheet of wax paper

I don't cover the frames or the bees can't get to it.

I cover the hive and put the covers back on. The entrance hole on my black box has to be elongated because the 1x2 shim raised the roof an 1-1/2"

Feb is the worst time of the winter season for hive survival.
This is the time of year that old man winter can kill large amounts of bee colonies across the midwest.
Starting anytime soon the queen is going to start laying eggs. The bees will keep the area around the brood about 96 degrees. They will start to hit the honey stores when the brood rearing starts. To maintain the warmer brood temperature the honey consumption will rise dramatically. In Dec and Jan a hive consumes about 12 - 14 lbs of honey per month. Now with the coming of the brood, the shift in honey consumption will be in the 15 - 20 lb per month range. The honey consumption starts slow in Feb but gets to the higher level in March.
As the bees feed the brood, they can deplete all the honey stores in the immediate area of the brood. The bees will have to bring honey in from the nearest source. If it is a full frame adjoining the brood cluster there is usually not a problem. However, if the brood was started in an area that has been depleted of stores, the bees may have to get honey from two to three frames away. Remember it takes 21 days from egg to emerging bee. That is three weeks the brood is in that same location, The honey can disappear quickly. A deep frame full of honey weighs about 9 lbs.
When the temperature stays in the 20's during the day this is normally not a problem. This morning in Stillwater the low temp was a minus 8 degrees F. But it is going to get into the 20's. Great weather. Moderating temperatures of single digits at night but 20's during the day pose little danger for hive mortality. It can happen, but usually the bees do well.
For Feb colonies, the danger comes if there is a cold snap of 3 days or more. If the nights get subzero and the daytime highs are single digits there will be widespread colony starvation. The starvation will come from the depleted stores around the brood. The cold causes the brood to form a tighter cluster to maintain heat for the brood. The tighter cluster is now off the honey stores that were being used to feed the brood and maintain heat. The hive will perish trying to keep the brood alive, even though a full frame of honey is sitting two inches away. When you open a dead colony in late winter and see 4 or 5 frames full of honey but dead bees. The first thought is mites, CCD or some other bee malady. Pulling the frames where the cluster has died and looking at the frames. If the bees have their bodies stuck into the cells with their butts looking at you is the sign of starvation.
After this gloomy picture I painted what can a beekeeper do? Really not much. Feeding syrup this time of year makes the problem worse. The bees think a nectar flow is on and the queen starts laying more.
Putting granulated sugar or a candy board on top of the colony can help. If the weather gets into the thirty's a colony can be opened and a quick peek looking for capped honey near the cluster. If no capped honey is seen, a full frame could be bought over and placed near the cluster but not into the cluster. Disruption of the cluster may cause an accident of killing the queen.
In most cases letting the bees fend for themselves is usually the best plan. Check a colony after a cold snap to see if they made it.