Seems like January would be a pretty quiet time of year in the apiary, but there are always a few tasks that need attention. So what are the beekeepers and the bees up to here in the Foothills of North Carolina?
Bees may BEE…
Clustering: During freezing weather, the bees huddle together in a tight ball to keep themselves (and their developing brood) warm. On warmer days they still move around the hive and take care of business, but extreme cold calls for snuggling up close. Pretty much like me and my favorite blanket. There’s not much better than curling up with it and some hot chocolate on a January evening!
Taking cleansing flights: Extremely cold weather keeps the bees tucked safely inside the hive. Since they will not release any waste inside the hive, occasionally they take a quick cleansing flight to relieve themselves. It must be above 40° F, and the bees only fly a few feet from the hive entrance. If only our farm dog was this well trained. We can hardly get him to go out when the weather is cold or yucky.
Foraging: Weather warm enough for the bees to fly (50° F and above) lets them forage the budding maple trees and camellias.
Rearing brood: After the winter solstice, the queen begins to lay eggs and workers raise brood in preparation for the spring nectar flow.
Beekeeper’s are currently…
Weighing hives: Periodic weighing of the hive lets us estimate how much food remains in storage. We have been weighing our hives since October and recording the results in a spreadsheet in an effort to estimate the amount of honey the bees have remaining. Weights should be declining, as the bees eat their stored honey. Most of our hives currently weigh about 80-90 pounds, total weight, including boxes, honeycomb, honey stores and bees. Our system isn’t perfect, as we can only weigh one side of the hive, but we use that to estimate the total weight.
Making sugar bricks: Sugar bricks work as extra insurance to guard against starvation over the winter. A sugar brick is like a huge sugar cube that serves as an emergency food source when all the honey is used up, and the beekeeper can’t provide liquid sugar syrup due to freezing weather conditions.
Inspecting the hive: In late January, we will take advantage of any unusually warm days to open the hive and do a quick inspection. We will try to only keep it open for a few minutes, as to avoid losing their precious heat, but it will be a chance to observe that brood is present, and if we are really lucky, to get a quick glimpse of the queen. Absence of brood would indicate a problem, most likely that no queen is present.
Evaluating woodenware needs: January is the perfect time to stock up on woodenware in preparation for the upcoming season. We plan to build hive boxes and other hive components this year. The photo shows hive boxes in progress. These boxes are complete except for a coat of protective stain on the outside. The littlest beekeeper likes to help out with that job. We’ve also been freezing existing boxes and wax frames that were removed from the hives at the end of the year to kill any pests that might be lingering in the woodenware. Wax frames are also sorted depending on what the frames were used for last year.
Attending bee school: Winter is usually the time for bee classes offered by local beekeepers associations or the cooperative extension service. If you are interested in learning more, this is an ideal place to start.
So even in the middle of a chilly January, we stay busy as bees, gearing up for the spring nectar flow. Well everybody except our trusty farm dog, Jingles. He seems to think it’s time for a long winter’s nap, probably cuddled in my favorite blanket. Even a dreary, winter day is no excuse to not BEE SWEET! Have a great day!