February in your apiary in Central Oregon

I wonder if winter will ever come.  In December and January, there wasn’t much you could do for your hives except keeping the cover on, the entrance clear of snow (during a normal winter) and checking occasionally for stores levels.

In February, starvation can become a real danger.  If we have a bunch of days in the 50’s and 60’s, your bees could start raising brood, then since there isn’t any natural forage, use up their stores at an amazing rate.  This is a great time to check their stores again (I usually heft the back of the hive to test the weight).  If it feels heavy, they’re probably ok.  If not, you need to think about emergency feeding.  I try to find a warm day 55 degrees or so to open the hive and verify the food level if there is any question.  There are several ways of emergency feeding.  The best way is to use full honey frames we saved from last summer.  We had a great talk in January by Naomi Price and Vivien Hight about SockerMat, essentially consolidated granulated sugar in frames (see our web site's “Members Area: Monthly meeting slides archives” for more information).  Additionally, you can make fondant (sugar candy) which is then placed under the inner cover (See January in the Apiary from this year), or just pour granulated sugar on the inner cover of a Langstroth hive.

I like to do a preseason mite treatment this month.  Remembering that during the winter, there are very few capped brood, most of the mites are not in capped cells.  This allows us to effectively use mite treatments that only work on phoretic and non-reproductive mites.  I usually use Oxalic acid.  There are two approved applications sublimation and drizzle.  Please read the “Honeybee health coalition, tools for Varroa management” article for current info on the hows/whys/why nots of mite treatments.

Finally, it’s a good time to start determining the winter kills.  If last fall the hive was dead, or on a warm day, you don’t see any activity it’s probably dead (if it’s that warm, I’ll pop the cover and have a look just to make sure).  I like to seal up the confirmed winterkills to protect from robbing, mice and wax moths.  After this, you’ll have a good idea of how many colonies you’ll need to replace.  A replacement won’t be easily possible until later in the spring (April or later) but think about how you want to acquire new bees to repopulate:  split a colony, capture a swarm, buy a nuc or package.  If you want to buy bees, start doing your research on suppliers.  We have a supplier list on our web site.  Additionally, talk to other beekeepers about their experiences with particular suppliers, cost, customer service, honey production, mite resistance, personality etc.  Note the deadline for orders, sometimes in February, frequently March or April.

Wishing you few winter losses and a quick spring buildup.

Allen Engle

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