What should I bee doing in May 2019

MAY SNOW SHOWERS BRING JUNE FLOWERS? BEARS, VANDALS AND SPLITS OH MY

As I write this post, it is pouring rain with a frost advisory in the morning :( They are even talking snow for my little piece of green heaven in NW Wisconsin. The wild plums started blooming a few days ago and the choke cherries and crab apples have swollen buds. The dandelions were going strong and the bees had just recovered from the “long dark night” of winter. Hopefully, this is the last time we have to endure these cold temps. My last frost risk date up here is May 20th so please, let’s keep it that way. It has been an interesting month for this beekeeper. I have had several close encounters with bears and human hive vandals. See photos above for evidence of hooligans hitting my hives and nearly killing one with long tree branches. I have since called the cops and strapped them down. What is wrong with people?!

WHAT ARE THE BEES DOING IN MAY?

This spring has been a bit challenging. It has been inconsistent and a bit of a creeper. Although, last year we barely had spring and shot right into summer so I appreciate a bit more time to acclimate and see the spring flowers extend on! The lesson to be learned about what the bees are doing and what the beekeepers should be doing is very real. With grand temperature swings, we must really pay attention to what the bees are telling us and how the weather will affect your management decisions. For the last month, healthy overwintered hives have been saying goodbye to the old guard and a much needed hello to the new workers. Populations have been building but swarm pressure has stayed relatively low. With some 70-80degree days, last week is when I really started to notice the flowers turn on and provide more nectar in the hives. Pollen is plentiful and the bees are about ready to make bee babies or swarms. May is a lovely time for both the bees and the beekeepers. Well, most of the time. Some of the hives coming out of winter did not make it very far. Any that were small in populations needed extra feed and more bees. A small hive like this cannot release a foraging force to really improve conditions in the hive. I have seen some turn around but beekeepers will often refer to small, weak colonies as dinks. Hard to get them to recover to be a viable hive in the summer. Not impossible but very rare.

WHAT IS THE BEEKEEPER DOING IN MAY?

My management for overwintered colonies this month has mostly been:

  • checking for queen health-eggs, larva, brood,

  • nectar in the hive-if when you are observing frames and it drips out, that indicates a nectar flow is on

  • number of brood frames-until last week, I only checked in the top box. With somewhat cooler temps, too much digging in the hive can cause problems.

  • adding room above the brood nest-adding a queen excluder and 2 supers to every big colony. I think it is too early for reversals. Especially this year. Reserve this technique for the main honey flow if your colonies are really going for it but reversals are stressful for a colony and I have seen viruses emerge…like chalk brood and european foulbrood because of early reversals. The bees will move down into boxes on their own. If you have a smaller colony coming out of winter, take away all boxes they are not using until they fill out the one they are in. Also, clean the bottom board

  • adding drone comb removal frames -an empty deep frame or super frame in position 2-3 next to the brood nest. They will fill with Drone Comb and then you must remove before the drones hatch in 24 days.

  • transferring nucs into 10 frame equipment for honey production-the nucs that made it through the winter will now be my honey hives. They will have 10-15 frames full and will need more room right way. Young queen and honey flow will set these colonies going faster.

  • making splits-There are different reasons and ways to make splits. My goals are to make more bees and more honey will at the same time preventing swarming. Last week, I made a few splits in the city with strong overwintered hives. I took the old queens out and put her and a few frames of brood in a 5 frame nuc. I notched a frame that had 4 day old larva(see pic above) and put it in the middle of the brood nest of the original colony. Bees choose that age larva in queen production. If you are not comfortable notching a frame, just make sure they have a frame of eggs in the colony. The idea is that the big overwintered hive will make their own queen, have a brood break as a result, and it will prevent them from swarming. I should have a new, very productive queen by the beginning of June! The bees will not have much to do until then so I added room for them to make lots of honey. This is one method.

  • Another method for newer beeks- You will need a 2nd bottom board, inner cover, telescoping cover, and extra boxes

  • Step 1: Add a queen excluder to your hive at least 4 days before you get a queen cell from me. When you come to make your split, the boxes without eggs is the half without your queen. In the example down below, I show the process with a 2 deep colony or a 3 deep colony. In the 2 deep colony example, Box 1 does not have eggs, Box 2 has the eggs therefore the old queen. In The 3 deep colony example, Box 1 an 2 do not have eggs, Box 3 does so therefore has the queen. If you have 2 queen excluders, you can isolate the queen to 1 box in a 3 deep colony.

  • Step 2: Leave the half without frames of eggs in the same place. Make sure they have a few frames of honey, pollen and sealed brood. Take away the box with frames of eggs which will have your original queen and some brood to a new spot in the apiary or another location if you have one. Make sure this box also has honey, pollen and some brood.

  • Step 3: Install your queen cell on the center of a brood frame in the center of the hive without eggs, a few inches from the top of the frame. That queen will hatch out and mate in about a week-10days-depends a little on weather. Check for eggs in 12-14 days from when you installed the queen cell. Your original colony will get a new queen and have a brood break. Your split will have the old queen which will continue to lay eggs. Add extra boxes to both splits. The one with the queen cell, will have all the foragers because you left it in the same spot. Use this to your advantage. They will have no brood to take care of so they will need other jobs. If you have new frames, get them to draw them out. If you want honey, put drawn frames. The old queen will need room to lay eggs.

  • Step 4: Make sure you add room to both colonies, whether it is honey supers or another deep.

    ****I will for sure have cells ready Saturday, June 1st or Sunday June 2nd. I might have some as early as May 26th or May 27th. I will let you know as soon as I can.

Here are a few good links that discuss making splits. Always ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to make a split to prevent swarming? Splitting is essentially swarming for that hive before it does it on its own. Do you want extra bees? It is super fun to make your own bees and don’t worry about having too many. Always good to have back up queens and trust me, it is not hard to find homes for bees. Splitting is good for mite control, especially when done with a queen cell. And can make you more honey if you play your cards right. Check out these two helpful articles about splitting https://honeybeesuite.com/how-to-make-a-split/ and http://www.bushfarms.com/beessplits.htm

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Kristy Allen
What Should I bee doing in April 2019

Aprils fools, spring is here! Bomb cyclone, pollen patties-to feed or not to feed?

As I write this, “the bomb cyclone” storm that hit the midwest Wednesday is starting to wrap up. UGH!!!! is my response. I am trying to bee positive folks but after such a punishing winter, the last thing we needed was a repeat of last years spring blizzard. Just this past Monday, it was closed to 70degrees, the bees were flying and pollen was coming in and then BLAMO, crazy winter storm with 8-15inches of snow, 60 mph winds and DUST from west Texas covered our apiaries. The positive? The temps were not nearly as bad as last year, by about 30 degrees. The weather will change in a few days and this white/tan crap on the ground will melt! However, April is not over and last year we got hit twice. Cross your fingers, our bees need the pollen to come back and the nectar to start flowing.

WHAT ARE THE BEES DOING IN APRIL?

The bees are responding to fresh pollen coming into hives from plants like willow, alder, maples and poplars. It is so interesting to keep bees as far south as Inver Grove Heights, MN and as far north as Grantsburg, WI. The photos from above were taken at our teaching site in Fridley and Inver Grove Heights. Most of the hives at these sites have been brooding up and building from natural pollen since the last week of March. I did not see pollen coming in my WI hives till about a week ago. These hives are way behind, are smaller and may need a bit more help with feed. The hives in Inver Grove Heights are full of bees and have several frames of brood and pollen. Theses strong hives are already gearing up to do what all animals want to do in the spring…have babies! In the case of honeybees, they are gearing up to swarm. This abrupt interruption to spring will slow the bees down but I don’t think it will negatively impact their health too much (fingers crossed) unless they run out of honey/food stores. They do have more brood to take care of and the pollen is not flowing into the hives like it was on Monday but they have the numbers and the temps are not too cold. The smaller hives that do not have as many bees could really struggle. With smaller populations, they have less workers to forage on pollen and therefore it will be harder for them to make more, healthy brood.

WHAT IS THE BEEKEEPER DOING IN APRIL?

Ok, I won’t lie. This beekeeper cried a little when she saw the storm forecast. My weatherman Hutty had no comforting words. He quoted T.S. Elliot “April is the cruelest month”. I got the memo and in anticipation of bad weather, on Monday when it was warm, I took a peak in my colonies to see how much pollen and brood the bees had. I also checked to see how many of them ate the sugar patties I made for them a month ago. Many had eaten through them already so I made sure to give them more food.

So what about feeding pollen patties? I struggle a little with this one. I think it depends on your colonies needs, breed, weather and forage. Many local beekeepers have been coming into the honey house and buying them. Some beekeepers will tell you to put them on a month ago and keep feeding them until they won’t eat anymore. As you have probably figured out by now, everyone will tell you something different when it comes to keeping bees. Use your critical thinking skills, experience and research to make your own decision.

My thoughts on pollen substitute are this: Ideally bees will be able to get enough pollen on their own and you would not have to feed them a substitute made of corn or soy, and brewers yeast. Commercial beekeepers have become dependent upon pollen patties for many reasons but does that mean the small scale beekeeper must follow suit. We have to remember that we are asking different things from our bees and keeping them in one spot year round. I like this perspective from Rusty of Honeybee suite . Also, in the interest of raising winter hardy bees, we don’t want to get our bees used to supplemental feed. Ideally, they would get the real thing and take cues from what is available in the natural world. On the other hand, the reality of the natural world is becoming less and less friendly to our bees. Less forage, toxic pollen and climate change are all realities that are affecting their health and access to the real deal. Like I mentioned before, I struggle with this decision. However, with my bees, I make a decision based on how healthy the bees look right now. How many frames of bees and frames of brood did I see when I checked, how much pollen do you observe the bees bringing in, what the forecast says and where are they located. The hives in Fridley and Inver Grove Heights all look really good for the most part. The small ones that are going to struggle through this last winter blast will get a little pollen sub. I do think feeding it too early means gives them the wrong idea and from experience, the less meddling in the hive I do in early spring, the better they do. Also, if you go check on your bees the next 55 to 60 degree day and it is full of bees, you might want to think about putting supers on early. Like end of April/beginning of May. This gives the bees the perception that they have more room and it will reduce the chance they will swarm before queens are available to do a split. And you may even capture a little dandelion honey!

We are almost there, beeople. Just two more weeks till our first Open Apiary Class on April 27th. Unless, this winter never ends ;)

Kristy Allen
What should I bee doing in March 2019

Hey beeps,

Happy Spring! Bees, you are so close to fresh food!

WHAT ARE THE BEES DOING IN MARCH?

Temps are still getting below freezing at night but above during the day which means they cluster at night and spread out to eat honey during the day. They are pooping a lot. I shared the photo above of one of my telescoping cover to show you their art. A bit like a Pollock painting, yes? An added bonus is that you get it all over your suit and vehicle when you go visit! My husband loves the smell ;) The bees are also busy caring for the first round of brood. The queen is laying a bit, the grave diggers are bringing out the dead and they are fanning at entrances to keep returning bees on the right path. This is a crucial time for bees. They have to balance replacing winter bees with the amount of food available in the landscape and who can guess how much is out there? That’s right, none yet. Ground needs to thaw, maple trees need to bud out-pay attention to when maple syrup season is wrapping up…right around the time pollen starts to show up in the hive. Also, the pics above provide a good reason to put your hives on higher ground. Climate change means more moisture, bigger storms. This is the first year I had to move the teaching hives out of harms way at our teaching site in Inver Grove Heights(see the last 2 photos above which were taken a few days apart.

WHAT IS THE BEEKEEPER DOING IN MARCH?

Sorry this is a little late in the month. I have been scrambling to check the hives that made it through the winter for adequate stores. That brings me right into what you should be doing this month if you had a hive make it through the hardest winter of my 10 year beekeeping career. Those with hives that have made it through winter need to MAKE SURE THEY HAVE ADEQUATE STORES TO GET THROUGH THE TRANSITION FROM WINTER TO SPRING. Real pollen and nectar is still a few weeks out and because we had such extreme temps and an unusual cold spell in March, the bees have used more stores than I have seen used in past winters. Most of the colonies that I found dead, died not from disease but starvation. Check out this great video by our friend Dr. Meghan Milbrath of University of Michigan, about diagnosing your dead colony https://pollinators.msu.edu/keep-bees-alive/why-did-my-bees-die-video/

So what do you feed? It is too early to feed sugar syrup because the temps are still dipping below freezing at night and above during the day. These temperature swings cause too much expansion and contraction over the air pocket of the bucket feeder and can cause cold syrup to drip on the cluster. Plus, you don’t want the bees to think there is fresh nectar out in the field prematurely. I feel the same way about pollen patties. Other beekeepers will tell you otherwise. And that is the fun, challenging world of beekeeping!

If I have left over honey, that is my preferred resource. Saturday afternoon when it gets above 50degrees is a perfect day to go check bees and give them stores if they need it. If you are feeding honey, remove the very outside frame or 2, shake the bees off onto the top of the frames and replace with your honey frame. If the cluster is smaller, you can move the honey frame in to the outside of the brood nest. DO NOT TAKE OUT OR BREAK APART ANY FRAMES FROM THE CENTER OF THE COLONY. Just work with the 2 most outside frames of the colony. It does not matter which side of the box. If those frames are still full of honey. Huzzah! your colony should not need any feed. They should be able to make it to first nectar. I have been very impressed with the genetics of queens that Yuuki and I have raised and their ability to conserve their stores. Hence why we have offered you all one free queen cell with the Club membership!

If you don’t have stored honey, a winter patty, dry sugar or sugar slush cake is the next best option. To make sugar slush, see the photos and recipe below.

What you need: Wax paper and flexible molds(paper bowls work well) 1 cup water, dash vinegar, 10lb’s sugar(adjust depending on #of colonies) I was able to get 8 cakes out of this recipe. (recipe comes from Mel Disslekoen’s book, OTS Queen Rearing)

Directions: Line molds with wax paper and set aside. Boil water and vinegar in a large, non-toxic pot and slowly add 5lb’s of sugar and it will convert to into liquid hot syrup. Stir continuously. After it is really hot and thin, turn down the heat to avoid scorching. When it starts to thicken but is still thin, pour into molds. Let cool and harden, then pop pop out of molds. Place on hive near the cluster. Use a feeder rim or a super to allow space for the height of the cake. Put your inner cover, moisture board and telescoping cover on top.

If you don’t have an overwintered colony and are waiting for a new colony, get your equipment ready. Plan your bee friendly garden, preach the good word to your neighbors about not spraying for dandelions and planting for bees. CALL your representatives and voice your support for the many amazing bee friendly bills moving through the legislature. A grant program that would help cover the cost to make your lawn more pollinator friendly SF1276, HF 2070, a bill to make rusty patched bumble bee the MN state bee. DNR's Wildlife Management Areas, HF721/ SF2107. For more info on the bills you can support, visit http://www.pollinatemn.org/mn-legislative-session (Still early in the session, updates will come soon)

Also, don’t forget we have a class this Sunday called “Why Did My Bees Do That?” -you get for $10 off. AND Open Apiary Classes will begin April 27th. Those of you who are shaky about what to do prevent swarming and prepare for making your split, I highly recommend attending the first 1-2 sessions of Open Apiary with Yuuki or I.


Kristy Allen
What should I bee doing in February 2019

Know your enemy, Tools in your toolbox and is it spring yet?

Who is tired of cold and snow? As we slowly make it passed the half way point of the shortest month of the year, why does it always feel like the longest?! In reading last month’s blog entry, the weather could not be more different since then. The Polar Vortex happened, which was a new experience for me as a non-migratory beekeeper. I lost sleep in my cozy home worrying about my bees and my “drone-fed” chickens. My poor poor Roufus, the Rooster suffered severe frostbite and I am afraid he will loose his comb. He will look like the hen I thought he was when he was a little pullet. Now, what he lacks in a head piece and wattle he will make up for as an adult with his big beautiful tail feathers and spurs. We are also experiencing the snowiest February on record. Compare the Jan. photo of my beeyard with the one from this month. I wish I had some snowshoes!

Any bees that were weak before the vortex, perished with the extreme cold. I saw an image in a book called “OTS Queen Rearing” by Mel Disselkoen. He had a picture of a bunch of bees with little red circles where mites may bite into the bees. The author, called them “wounded workers.” Death by a thousand cuts is how I think of it. Imagine the wounds on the bees from the mites sharp mouth leaving open sores, weakening their little bodies and ability to fight virus spread by the bees before winter when they need the most strength. For many years, the science community thought mites were sucking blood but it was revealed last year, by Dr. Samuel Ramsey that mites feed on the underside of the bee, sucking out fat bodies inside the bees while releasing an enzyme that continues to break down the fat bodies even after the mites moves to another one. Fat bodies of bees, function a lot like the human liver. According to Ramsey, the fat bodies in the bees are responsible for the following crucial functions:

  • Growth and metamorphosis-when the larva changes to pupa, fat bodies are necessary

  • Storage of energy and nutrient mobilization

  • Pesticide detox

  • Immune function

  • Temperature regulation

  • Protein and fat synthesis-so if you feed pollen sub to a bee that has had a lot of fat body sucked out, they are not able to process and therefore benefit from that supplement

  • Vitellogenesis-vitellogen is a protein that helps winter bees live through long winters

I highly recommend you sit down with this video (linked here) to understand how the mite works. Know your enemy. These nasty little parasites are enemy numero uno. We should be using every tool in our toolbox to help our bees stay strong all year long. And remember, JUST BECAUSE YOU CANT PHYSICALLY SEE THE MITES ON THE BEES DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE NOT THERE! They hide underneath the bee. If you see them on the backs of the bee it means they are done feeding on one and looking for another bee to take a fat body bite out of.

And what are the bees doing in February?

So, in my opinion, doing your best to understand what the bees are doing at a particular time of year, really helps the beekeeper. So from now on with this blog, I will start with what the bees are doing. Today is the 17th of February. In 2016, the temperature got up to 60F on Feb. 21st. Because of this, the bees were already collecting pollen in some areas. Obviously, this is not the case in 2019. Not only are we having the snowiest month, we are below average in temps. However, the position of the sun and the extension of daylight, can trigger the queen to start laying a small patch of brood in anticipation of spring. The colder than average temps may delay this process but I did observe a little brood in the colonies that have already perished. Rearing brood requires more resources and a certain temperature in the hive so the bees will start to work harder and dig into those resources. We are about 10 days till March and Hutty did mention an early spring warm up, so cross your fingers for that! Anyways, the next 2 months are the time when bees really start to dig into their winter stores. I have included another pic of the observation hive I keep at El Centro in Minneapolis. That pic was taken just a few days ago. I did not see any brood in the colony but that hive has 8 frames and I am not able to see what is happening between the frames. My guess is that is where the queen is hiding and if there is brood started, between the frames is the warmest spot. Interestingly, there is a little tray at the bottom of the hive with a screen where mites and other hive debris fall below. Once a month, i have been cleaning the mites out of the bottom of the tray and counting. In December, I counted 15, in Jan. it was 12, and this month 12 again. I can also see that they still have honey in the hive. If you compare it to the photo in my Jan. post, the number of bees looks similar. Pretty neat, huh?

And what should the beekeeper be doing in February?

Knowing that the weather could change back to cold for who knows how long, after the vortex, I went out to check losses and add food supplies to those that needed it. There was only one 2-3 day window for these checks in the first weekend of February when the weather would be above freezing. The 2nd picture in the line up comes from an infrared camera. Super fun technology to play around with. The photo was taken on Feb.2nd at the Inver Grove Heights teaching yard. Between all 3 teaching sites, 2 at Inver Grove and 1 at Fridley, we only lost 3 hives. In the photo, even though all the boxes do not show the red/white color, all of the hives were alive (hard to pick up with camera and fit all the hives in the shot). So far, my overall total losses from 100 teaching and production hives are at around 28%. For the most part, the ones that died were not a surprise for me except for one yard where I had some nucs packed together. They all seemed up to weight and healthy in the fall and were alive before the vortex. When I went to check after the cold, 5 out of the 7 were quiet. Because they were all wrapped together, i could not break them apart and risk losing the other two to assess what happened. I will keep you posted when I am able to look at them.

So, in February, the beekeeper should be researching, prepping equipment for next year, assessing bee survival and food stores(only by lifting the back of the colony or taking a quick peak if it is above freezing). Remember that I have 100 hives and you may only have a few. If you took care of mites last year, left them with enough food, put mouse guards on and have them wrapped and protected from the wind, your bees should make it just fine. And I know you will worry anyway, but try not to. Spring will be here soon and the bees will return to your boxes one way or another.

Speaking of equipment, I want to make an announcement that some of you already know. I am super excited to be working with the owner of a brand new company called “Propolis Hive Company”. Christian Dahm featured in the photo below, is a former US Marine now beekeeper and sawyer from near Moose Lake, MN. He has worked at the U of MN bee lab and keeps his own hives, and has developed a patten pending propolis hive body from wood that he sustainably harvests from his land. I went for a visit to see his operation. Check out the size of those white pines he is standing in front of!

What does that mean and why propolis? He roughs up the inside of the box using a special technique, encouraging bees to build a propolis envelope. According to research done at the University of MN which I helped assist with as a lab tech in 2014 (click here) and more done at University of Georgia (click here), propolis acts as a antimicrobial layer that helps keep the bees healthy! Starting March 1st, The Beez Kneez Honey House will be the exclusive retailer of these boxes. We are super excited to add another tool to our toolbox in keeping bees healthy by understanding what they do in nature and applying it to our management system. For a great podcast on how bees live in the wild and benefit from propolis, listen to this great interview with one of our favorite bee scientists Dr. Tom Seeley. We will try these out in our own apiaries this summer. Interested? Let me know asap because we only ordered 20 deeps and 6 are already sold! We will also have mediums and nucs available.

Also, our first Better Bee order will be coming in tomorrow Monday, Feb. 18th so we will be stocked up with supplies.

Save the date-We will be having our annual equipment building class on Saturday March 9th at 2pm.

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Kristy Allen
What should I bee doing in January 2019

Perparation preparation preparation

In September of 2018, I moved to a little piece of heaven I call Trade River Ranch near Grantsburg, WI. I set up about 19 hives in and in front of the “Lazy L Lodge”. I realized after watching the video below a few times that my partner’s filming framed “Lazy” above my head. While I don’t think this is intentional, bad form on his part, don’t you think? I assure you, I am anything but lazy. In fact, I have the opposite problem.

The day I took this video it was in the low 40’s and sunny in early January which to a northerner feels more like 65. Thoughts of spring and swimming were dancing through my head ;) My favorite weather man, Paul Huttner, or who I like to refer to as “Hutty”, tells us that we are experiencing an El Nino year causing a winter more mild than normal. But he also talks at great length about how climate change is real and upon us, which means a warming planet and more extreme temp. swings and weather events. I can tell you as someone who has been working in and around agriculture for over 10 years, growing food is going to become even more difficult unless we make some drastic changes concerning climate change. And I can tell you as a beekeeper, bees in the winter do not fair well with drastic swings in temperature. And frankly, neither do most other organisms on the planet. But I digress…

To improve your beekeeping skills and to make smart informed management decisions, one must understand what the bees are doing and why. And one of the most important things to remember about honey bees and northern bee management is that bees are perennial. They live as a colony year round so they are wired to be preparing for winter year round. When more people lived from what the land provided, this was better understood. Some around the world still do. They depend on climate, natural resources and feeding themselves from what they can grow. A delicate balance at times. One that is increasingly out of balance. I now understand this in a more personal way because of my migration to the country. We try to heat our house with wood and fill our pantry with food we grow in harmony with the ecosystem in a sustainable manner so it gives back for decades to come. You must be in a mind set of constant preparation. You can’t burn wood unless it has cured and depending on the type of wood, it can take 6 months-a year or more. Our ability to grow food drastically decreases in the winter time so you must think about what you can grow in the summer and fall to feed yourself in the winter. You get the point. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Bees in the north and those in areas that have long seasons of dearth (a time when there is little to no forage in the landscape), spend the year preparing for those times. In fact, breeds of bees that are better adapted to cold weather climates will actually shut down reproduction when there are little to no flowers producing nectar even though it is warm. This is also why some beekeepers freak out between the spring flow (what beekeepers refer to as the time when bees are making honey ) and summer flow. They assume they do not have a queen because suddenly there are no eggs in the colony. In my experience, this is especially true for bees with strong Russian genetics! A queenless hive will act very different than a hive with a queen that is alive and well but not laying, but that is a topic for a different day. Main lesson here and the other really important thing that will make you a good beekeeper is pay attention to what is going on in the environment in relation to your hive. What flowers are blooming when? What is the forecast and how will it affect the bees forage? One May a few years back, there was a crazy hail storm on a farm where I have 10-15 hives. In just a few hours, it shredded many of the little plants the farmer transplanted a few weeks earlier. The next day the bees were robbing like crazy. The flower faucet suddenly turned off, at a time when the bees were building up in anticipation to reproduce and then BLAMO, the food disappeared so they were trying to get it wherever they could!

Anyways, January.

What should the beekeeper be doing in January? This January, I have been doing a combination of things: resting my body, reading about bees, planing for next year, checking for life in my hives and prepping equipment for this coming year. Preparation, preparation, preparation. In the second photo up above, I am checking for life. The most simple way to check if your ladies are hanging on is to put your ear next to the entrance and gently tap on the box. Make sure there is minimal noise entering your other ear because the buzzing can be faint depending on where they are clustered in the hive. You can also blow in the hole if tapping doesn’t work, some use a stethoscope and if you’re real fancy, an infrared camera will show you the cluster.

And what are the bees doing in January? They are clustered. But let’s back up. How did they get that way and why? Bees cluster when the temp. drops below 57 degrees, depending on the breed. The 3rd pic above is of a hive on October 1st starting to cluster. The one next to it is of an observation hive I manage in Mpls. I included both so you could see a top view and a side view of a cluster. They form a ball around the frames, engage their flight muscles and shiver to keep the whole cluster warm. How do they do this when it is super cold you may ask? They eat honey to produce energy. The middle of the hive is the warmest spot-around 85-93 degrees. The queen is in the middle and being cared for by the bees around her. The bees on the outside will appear dead because they are not moving much but they are at the coldest spot. The bees on the inside will trade with the bees on the outside, kind of like penguins! They worked all summer to collect honey to put in their pantry to get through the whole winter so they can start all over again in the spring. Preparation, preparation, preparation. A few terrible things can happen during a really cold winter. They don’t have enough bees to keep the cluster warm and it is too cold for them to break cluster and move to another part of the hive. It is always revealing when you find a hive with the cluster all to one side, the side where the sun hits it most and a bunch of honey untouched on the cold side. And what about a mild winter? Or one where the temperature swings too much? Let’s say it is 40 one day and 5 the next. On the 40 degree day, the bees have broken up to access more food, take a cleansing flight and take the dead out the bottom. Then BLAMO, the temp drops and they can’t get organized in time to cluster tight and keep everyone warm.

As a sustainable beekeeper, you will only take what is extra and leave them enough for this long time of seasonal dearth. At The Beez Kneez, we pull our honey in late July or early August with the idea that they are going to benefit from the fall flowers and we will not have to feed. Some years, like the last one, you may have to feed because the fall flowers did not provide. We are working on selecting bees that are really good at storing honey but not all hives do what you want them to so you must determine this before it is too late. And last fall, we did not have much of a fall. Not many 60 degree days to make sure the bees can effectively take down syrup and turn it into food stores in time for the long winter. So, we had to feed but knowing that getting honey stores on them was an issue in a timely manner, I marked the colonies that would be light and on these freakishly warm days in Jan, while it is NOT a good idea to open your colonies in the winter, it is a good idea to lift them and see how heavy they are. If they are light, you can very quickly pop the top and place a winter patty on top of the hive. Some beekeepers will add dried sugar or winter patties in the fall for insurance. See the photo below.

This practice may be especially useful this winter because, beeks, what does a warmer winter do to bees? They will break cluster more and eat more. They will also leave the hive to take cleansing flights like I talk about in the video below. However, I Do NOT recommend opening the hive in the winter unless you asses that they will starve without something before the first bloom. As curious and worried as you may be, you don’t want to chill them so be quick and prepared when if and when you do it. And don’t do it unless it is above 35degrees. Remember the main theme…Preparation, preparation, preparation! If you fed or your colonies were heavy in October, they should be fine till spring. In fact, I work with a few beekeepers who have hive scales. Just yesterday, they said their colonies had only lost 15-21lb’s since October 17th. So that is just 5-7lb’s per month. Before winter, we try to make sure our double deep, 10 frame colonies weigh 120-130 lb’s and our double nucs weigh 70’lbs. That includes bees and woodenware so that leaves roughly 70-80'lb’s or 50-60lb’s of feed for winter. Bees will eat more as spring approaches. More bees means more workers to replace the ones that naturally die off in the spring. When the weather starts to change, and we have longer days with warmer temps, this is when bees can starve. So sit tight beeks. It is middle of January and the weather is about to drop again. There is not much you can do until spring. And keep in mind that if your hive is dead already, it is highly likely that it perished from mites and therefore viruses, rather than lack of food stores.


Kristy AllenComment