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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

A Year at Bees of the Woods Apiary: January

This is the first part of a year-long series that will follow what we do, and what happens in our beeyard through the course of the year.

Unusual Winter So Far

This has been a strange winter in the Northeast. Above average – way above average temperatures, and very little snow, as you can see in the picture below! This picture was taken in early January, and is definitely not what we usually see this time of year. Normally this time of year, the bees would be clustered together inside the hive, eating honey and vibrating to produce heat.

This year, because of the warm temperatures, the hives have been much more active. It’s not every year that bees are out flying on Christmas Day! Because of the increased activity, the bees eat up the honey stores faster. If we then have a harsh or long winter, they could face starvation in the spring.

January Beeyard

So, this year we have done something we’ve never done before.  We purchased “winter patties” – a supplementary food source - and placed them on top of the frames in the top super of honey on each hive. I’m thinking of it as insurance. If they do get low on honey stores, this will give them a little extra to feed on.

We also have a few supers of capped honey frames that we froze, and then stored. If a hive seems low as we approach spring, we can use some of this honey to help them through. Fingers crossed.

New Year’s Day

I have a tradition of going out to visit the beeyard on New Year’s Day. I put my ear on the side of each hive, and listen for the “hum” to make sure they are still alive and well. With the warm weather so far, I expected to find that the hives were all alive, and I was not disappointed. Sixteen out of our sixteen hives had a strong, healthy hum.

While I am out there I also check the hive entrances. I make sure the entrance reducers are still in place so no mice can get in, and that the entrances are not clogged with bees that have died during the winter. If there do seem to be a lot of dead bees, I grab a stick and scoop them out of the entrance and onto the ground, so the bottom entrance is open for ventilation and for the bees to come and go on warmer days.

This year, only one hive had enough bees at the entrance that I had to clean them out. I also check that the tractor battery that powers the electric fence around the beeyard is charged. A gentleman in our bee club lost several hives to a bear in late November, so we don’t want to take any chances. The battery was low, so I put it on the charger for 24 hours. The charge usually holds a few weeks to a month, depending on the temperatures.

Planning Ahead

Since there isn’t a lot to do in the beeyard in January, this is really a time of planning ahead and getting organized. I always take a little time organize my notes from the last season. I look over what worked, what didn’t, and make a list of things I want to remember for the coming season.

This past spring and summer, we had a lot of hives that swarmed. One of our goals is to pinpoint which hives are growing rapidly early in the season, and either divide them to make new hives, or use them to make nucleus hives (nucs). This will hopefully cut down on swarming and allow us to expand our apiary.

We also do an inventory of our equipment, and make a list of what needs to be purchased. Since we are planning on starting more nucs from the surviving hives this season, we will be definitely be purchasing some nuc boxes and frames. If we were ordering bees, we would need to get this done in January as well. But this year, with sixteen hives, we shouldn't need to buy bees. Again, we are hoping to expand our apiary by dividing the hives we already have.

January is also a good time to get caught up on reading. There are many great books out there on bees and beekeeping for both beginner and more experienced beekeepers. Because I am going to try grafting our own queens this spring, I am planning on doing some reading on queen rearing. Whatever your goals are for your bees this year, there is probably a book out there that can help you learn more about it!

Wishing you and your bees a productive and successful 2016!

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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