Here is what to expect in and around the hive in January.
In the hive
The bees are in their winter cluster, except for very warm and sunny days (roughly 50ºF and above), when they might leave the hive for a cleansing flight. Queens may lay a few eggs, in which case the cluster will need to keep the brood warm. Dead bees may pile up on the bottom board; on warm days, the bees may remove the bodies, and other bees may fly off to die. Dead bees scattered on the snow outside the hive are therefore a good sign.
In Green Bay WI, in January, the average minimum and maximum temperatures are 9ºF and 24ºF, with 13” of snowfall and 1” of additional precipitation.
- When inspecting a colony in winter, it is not necessary to open it. Do a quick external inspection, visual and auditory, to check the cluster. Listen for the bees with your ear directly on the upper part of the hive; if you do not hear anything consider get a stethoscope or renting the club infra-red camera. Tapping the outside of the hive will get the bees to respond but is not recommended since part of the response is to break the cluster.
- You can open the hive if it is relatively warm and windless outside, but do not pull frames or break open the cluster if it is below 50ºF (not likely in Green Bay, WI). If you open the hive, check for moisture around the inner or outer covers. If the cluster is far to one side of the food stores, you can carefully move it closer, keeping it together while you do so, or move frames of honey closer to it.
- Check if the colony is light on food stores (you can tell by gently hefting the hive). If so, use dry sugar, fondant, or a candy board on a warm day.
- Order any replacement bees (packages, nucs, or queens) as soon as possible; producers generally run out fast.
- Check any stored equipment for pests such as wax moths.
- Take inventory. Fix, clean/sterilize, purchase, assemble, and paint equipment as needed.
Hive products and services
- Cut-outs tend to be easier this time of year, when populations are low.
- Ensure that the hive cover is properly secured and weighted down.
- Check for evidence of critters living in the nice, toasty hive.
- Remove ice blocking the hive entrance, to give the colonies better ventilation. Don’t worry about snow around the entrance or hive body; it allows enough airflow and may help insulate the bees.
- A few dead bees or a small amount of fecal matter outside the hive is nothing to worry about, especially after a warm day; this is a sign that they are taking cleansing flights and are still alive inside.
- Don’t forget to renew your club membership and to get the upcoming year’s meetings on your calendar.
- Also check the schedule for bee school; many bee schools are held in the late winter.