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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

A Year at Bees of the Woods Apiary: February

This is the second part of a year-long series that will follow what we do, and what happens in our beeyard through the course of the year. Read all posts in this series here.


The Unusual Winter Continues

This winter continues to be a strange one.  As of the end of the first week of this month there is still no snow on the ground.  According to our local weather station we have had 5.5 inches of snow so far this year, which has long since melted.  The current record for the least amount of snow in our area is 13.8 inches, back in the winter of 1912-1913 (Source: National Weather Service).

So, this could be one for the record books!  I did see that they are predicting colder temperatures next week, and possibly a chance of a little snow.  Maybe this will be a return to a more “normal” winter for us.

Checking in With the Hives

I decided to take advantage of the warm weather, and on February 1st did a quick check of each hive to see if it was still alive. To my delight, all 16 hives were alive and well.  I spent some time in the early afternoon on another day taking a quick peek into the top of the hives to see if they had touched the winter patties we put on each hive this year as emergency feed due to the warmer temperatures (See our post "A Year at Bees of the Woods Apiary: January").

I was very surprised at how much of the winter patties had been consumed. Two hives had not eaten much of it, but the rest of the hives had all consumed at least most of one of the patties, and one hive had completely consumed both of the patties! I replaced any completely consumed patties with a new one to make sure they have extra feed when the colder temperatures return.

This got me wondering if they were eating the winter patties because they were getting low on honey already, or if they just liked the winter patties. So I did the “lift test” on each hive. I hold on to the hive near the bottom back, and gently try to lift the back, hinging on the front edge. This gives me an idea of the weight of the hive – if any seem light (easy for me to lift), I can add stored honey frames, or even an entire super, to that hive.

This time, all of the hives were fairly difficult for me to lift – I really had to work at it. This tells me that they should still have plenty of honey. Two seemed slightly lighter than the rest, so I made a note to make checking those two a priority the next time we have mild temperatures. 

Because all of the hives are alive at this point, we are not ordering any packages or nucs. Even if we lose some over the rest of the winter, we are hoping enough survive that we can divide them to replace any lost hives. If you are planning on ordering bees and haven’t yet, you should soon. Our local bee supply company recently announced that they are already sold out of overwintered nucs!

We have all of our equipment stored overhead in the garage, and in the early spring will begin assembling and staining additional honey supers.  If you have a heated work space, assembling and painting equipment would be a great task to get done now.


Over the past month or so we have been contacted by several new beekeepers looking for mentors. A mentor can help guide new beekeepers, answer questions they may have, and offer advice or tips on beekeeping. If you are new to beekeeping, I highly recommend finding a mentor to help you out. And, if you are an experienced beekeeper, it might be nice to help someone out who is just getting started. The picture to the right shows a group of young beekeepers learning how to do an inspection.

When we first started beekeeping, we did not have an “official” mentor. But through our bee club, we got to know several beekeepers in our area who were always happy to answer any of our questions. We also visited a few bee yards to see how they did hive inspections. It was unofficial mentoring, but mentoring nonetheless, and what we learned was invaluable. In fact, we still turn to these beekeepers with occasional questions or for help with a problem.

One thing to be cautious of when mentoring is doing too much of the work for the person you are trying to help. Remember, you are there to help them learn how to care for the bees themselves, not to do the work for them. We try to be clear in our role as mentors - we are happy to help in any way we can, but the main responsibility of the colony rests with the owner.

And, if you are being mentored, it is nice to thank your mentors for the time they are spending with you. One memorable time we had someone we were helping bake us a pie after a few visits! Mentors are an important resource when learning about beekeeping.

Happy Beekeeping!

Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband, Keith. You can visit them at Bees of the Woods. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 

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