Protecting Beehives from Late Winter Starvation

| 3/12/2014 9:55:00 AM

Here in the northeast, we have been experiencing temperatures near zero at night, and in the teens and twenties during the day. It has been a long, cold winter for everyone, including honeybees! It is still much too cold to open up the hives to do a thorough inspection. However, this is the time of year when beehives can be lost to starvation, so it is important to try and do a quick check to make sure the bees have enough honey to hold them over until warmer weather arrives, and the first blooms appear.Late Winter

To do this quick check, you need a day that is at least in the 40’s, preferably with plenty of sun and little wind. We were lucky enough to have a two day break with temperatures near 50 degrees, so we were able to do a quick check of our hives.

While the bees are not usually very active this time of year, they are likely to be very unhappy when disturbed! I take the usual precautions of using a smoker and veil, although it does feel very strange to be walking out to the beeyard with a smoker and veil when there is a foot of snow on the ground!

Assessing Beehive Health in Winter

After gently puffing the smoke into the entrances, I wait a minute, and then remove the outer cover, remove the super of straw (see my earlier post, In the Beeyard: Final Winter Preparations), and then gently pry off the inner cover. Here is what I look for:

1. Where are the bees? If the bees are clustered at the very top of the uppermost super, they may be in trouble. Bees work their way up eating honey through the winter, so if they are already up top, honey stores may be low. If I can hear the bees “humming”, and the cluster is somewhere below the top super of honey so I can’t see them, they are probably in good shape.

2. How much honey is left in that top super? Are the frames of honey in the top super still full? Are about half of them empty? Or, are most or all of them empty? For our area, if the top super is less than three-quarters full, I plan on doing something to supplement the food supply.

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