February In the Apiary 

Hot dang! It’s February, and so far our winter has been practically balmy compared to last years ordeal of sub-zero stretches. How does this (so far) warmer winter affect our bees? 

1- The warmer weather actually increases the amount of honey the bees may consume as they are more active and have more flight activity. As the bees move upward during the winter stretch, eventually they will arrive at the top of the frames. If you open the lid and see all your bees frantically crawling all over the top of your bars, they may be running out of stores. Although it looks wonderfully active, they might be needing a quick food check. Hefting the weight of the hive is a way to see what honey is still present. You can also move outside frames of honey nearer to the nest location. If you don’t have honey, and discover low food stores, feed sugar fondant. Avoid sugar syrup, as this introduces only more moisture into the hive at the wrong time of year. A pollen patty may also be put inside if you are seeing low stores and brood rearing will be starting up (March, April). 

2- The warmer weather will make brood building easier, so if our winter continues to have plenty of warm spells, and the food holds out, be thinking about an early bee season. Plan ahead for it. Divides, swarming, etc. Now is the time to get your Apiary prepared for possible expansion. The warm weather breaks allow the frequent cleansing flights the bees need to avoid a compacted digestive tract, which may lead to nosema concentrations in the hive increasing. So those quick flights are very healthy for the girls. 

3- Now is a good time to re-evaluate winter hive locations. If your hive could have received better sunlight or better wind protection during the winter months, make a note of that so that you can make adjustments when possible. Hives can be carefully moved in the winter during long days of being stuck in the hive due to weather. However it is obviously important to not disturb the cluster by bumping it around so much it breaks apart. In general, the less disturbance to a hive during winter, the better. 

4- For those persons who want to treat with Oxalic Sublimation (vapor) for varroa, winter is the best time to take advantage of the broodless period. O.A. does not kill varroa under the capped cell. And it does destroy open brood. So the biggest varroa hit O.A. can do is when brood is minimal. When exactly would that be? Most colonies stop raising brood when the temperature remains below 5C or 41 degrees. After 3 weeks at temperatures below 41 degrees, the hive will be near broodless. Hence, the beekeeper has to judge when they believe the longest cold spell has come to an end and then one can treat. Of course this is all up to a beekeepers personal choice of management method. 

5- Water. When the colony can fly during those warmer days, be sure to have a supply of water available to them. Often canals are off, older ‘watering holes’ are now dry. Warmer days do not always follow precipitation. This is when the neighbors hot tub can become a favorite place for your bees to die en masse and cause mayhem. So, before they go off to carve a very bad habit in stone for themselves, be proactive and give them some drowning-free access to water. 

Okie dokie. That about covers it. Stay warm, enjoy your down time, cuz in no time at all we will be popping the covers off our hives like covers on boxes of fine chocolates, with huge grins of appreciation on our faces welcoming our girls back....good beekeeping to all. Kim Rivera

Thanks to Kim Rivera for writing these February notes!!

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