Preparation for the Start of Another Year
I always think January is a bit of a funny month, the perceived middle of winter, often cold & short days. Nothing is growing outside, but we continue to pick cabbages from the vegetable patch and cook with produce stored in the freezer and outside store. The Bees in January appear to be quiet, but this is the start of their year.
There's not much to do outside, except tidy up the vegetable patches, check up on overwintering plants in the green houses, and prepare for the imminent spring making sure all the bee equipment is ready.
Preparation is key. I have been busy making new hives in the old Shippen (cowshed), repairing and painting older hives and cleaning hive parts.
In autumn most of the bee equipment suppliers have good sales, selling off beehives and components as seconds or slightly damaged. If you are handy, this is an ideal opportunity to snap up a bargain.
Slightly flush with money from honey sales, I take full advantage of this this time by buying. With a bit more time in the winter months, its the ideal time to put everything together. This is better than having to do it in the Spring or Summer months when you have an urgent need for another hive as the result of a swarm.
Bees in January
Today was a warm bright day with blue sky and sunshine. About 1pm the bees were doing what I would expect. Every so often you would see a bee leave or return to the hive.
In January, typically, on warmer days, the bees can be seen leaving the hive to go to the toilet & to collect water to dilute their honey stores. Underneath the hive, I can see small specs of cream coloured wax which have fallen out of the hive though the mesh floor. This is wax cappings, the wax used to seal the honey into the honey come. This is a good sign as it shows the bees are active and using their stores.
I don't inspect the hives as it is too cold and can chill and kill the bees. However, hopefully within a healthy hive with a queen, the bees are clustered together around the queen keeping warm by vibrating their wings - a bit like shivering.
I always get a bit concerned at this time of year as I'm uncertain to what is going on in the hive and if the colony is still ok, so I put my ear to the hive and give it a rap with my knuckles. At this point for a few seconds, hopefully you can hear a buzz. This does not necessarily mean the hive is well, but tells you bees are sill alive in the hive.
Feed Me, Feed Me Now!
One of the problems beekeepers need to address at this time of year is starvation. If the beehive does not have enough stores (honey) then the bees can starve and not make it through the winter.
As a beekeeper, I regularly go around hefting (lifting the hives). This gives me an indication of how heavy they are, and the honey stores the bees have available.
Toward the end of the beekeeping year, I like to weigh all my hives with suite case scales. This gives me an indication of what stores they have. If they are light, then I feed the hive in preparation for winter. Each hive needs about 20kg of honey or stores. So there is always a balance between what we harvest and what the bees need to survive the winter.
I'm not greedy when harvesting the honey as the bees are my primary concern, and the health of the bees that is paramount.
Currently all my hives seem to have sufficient stores. But, over the next week or so, I'll assess each of the hives and will probably put fondant on ....... just in case ..... if the bees take it, this maybe an indication of problems - lack of stores, or they are unable to access the stores.
In the meantime, the bees will continue to keep the inside of the hive at a warm, sometimes increasing the temperature to encourage the queen to start laying.
Hopefully the queen will have started laying, producing the next generation of workers for the up and coming busy season!