It’s cold outside. What’s a beekeeper to do?
We have had a fairly mild winter so far, especially relative to last winter. However, there is a definite winter chill in the air as I write this. The bees are safely clustered in their hives, awaiting the arrival of a day in the 40’s so they can at least get outside and use the bathroom. Fortunately, we have had a few of those already. I managed to check on some colonies a few weeks ago when the temperatures approached the 50’s. I have already lost a few and added honey to others that seemed like they might need it. I am hoping for another shot of warm temperatures, so I can check on things again, but that is hard to predict.
So what should we be doing when the cold keeps us inside and it seems like there is nothing to do? Beekeepers have the same issue as avid gardeners; winter has put the kibosh on being outside and participating in our preferred pastime. Gardeners spend their time reading, planning and ordering seeds. Beekeepers would do well to follow this as well.
So here is a list of things that one could be doing on these long, dark days of winter.
Plan for next season.
- Are you going to add any hives this year?
- Are you worried that your bees won’t make it? What are you going to do to replace them?
- Are you prepared, if your bees do make it? Do you have a plan to prevent swarming? Is the extra equipment on hand, if there is a good honey flow? Do you have a nuc box ready so that you can have an emergency queen on hand through the season?
Order your bees.
- Now is the time to make sure that you have bees coming to replace any of your winter losses, if that is how you operate. You need to decide what type of replacement bees you want.
- Are you ordering packages? If so, the demand has far outweighed the supply the last few years. Don’t wait until the last minute. I know that suppliers at the Kalamazoo Bee School stopped taking orders that 3rd Saturday in February last year.
- Are you planning on using nucs? If so, are you going with imported or local nucs or are you going to make your own? Local nucs will not be ready until later in the spring, as it takes time for producers to build them up after the long winter. If you are ordering imported nucs you will have a jump on the season, but be sure that you know where they are coming from and remember that the date they are promised and the date they arrive may be two very different things. Look for a future blog post about what to look for when you are examining nucs for purchase.
Clean up and repair any extra equipment.
- Now is the time to look through your woodenware and see what needs to be replaced. This is the time of year when I go through all of my supers frame by frame; checking to see which frames need to be replaced, scraping burr comb and collecting propolis, and cleaning up the supers and making any necessary repairs. This also allows you to inventory what you have and what equipment you might need to order.
Order and assemble your new equipment.
- Are you planning on expanding the number of hives you have? Do you have a nucleus hive ready, in case your hive survives and booms and you need to split it to prevent swarming? Do you have frames that need to be replaced? This is the perfect time to assemble equipment. Temperatures right now may prevent you from painting boxes in your unheated workshop, but that is an easy job for later if your equipment is already assembled. Last winter was a harsh one and I didn’t think I was going to be able to fill my existing equipment, much less increase my hive count. But we had a great honey season in my area and I found myself (once again) scrambling to make frames and assemble and paint woodenware to keep up with my bees. There are currently 100 frames I never got around to making that are waiting for me to get out to the shop and start building.
Expand your knowledge.
- Read a book, or (two or three)! There is not much time to expand your knowledge of beekeeping when the bees are taking up your (spare) time. The number of books on beekeeping books continues to expand on what seems like a daily basis. Local publisher, Wicwas Press, has a nice selection of books of their own and other authors as well.
- Subscribe to at least one of the Bee Journals. There is something in them for everyone. I end up reading both The American Bee Journal and Bee Culture throughout the year, but winter is the time that I revisit them, rereading some of the articles and getting to the ones that I somehow missed before the new edition arrived.
- Attend a club meeting or a national conference. Go to a Bee School. This is the perfect place to connect with other beekeepers and expand your knowledge. The places are filled with inspiration for beekeepers at any level. The Kalamazoo Bee School will be held Jan. 21, 2014 at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. This is one of the best local spring meetings I have attended in Michigan and a great place to start if you have yet to attend such an event.
Make some stuff.
- My final suggestion is to use some of those other resources you harvested from the hive to create some value added products. I am won’t go into this in much detail on this post. I will be speaking about Value-Added Products of the Hive at the Kalamazoo Bee Club’s January meeting. Keep checking back for future posts on value added products that you can make to while away those winter days and evenings.
That’s all for now. Stay warm and cross your fingers for some 40 degree (or warmer) days so we can peek at the bees.