By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
In mid day when the temperature is above 55ºF, the bees should be foraging a little.
If they’re bringing back pollen, that’s a good sign.
Assuming you downsized your hive this fall to eliminate most of the empty space, you can tell a lot now by lifting the telescoping lid and looking through the oblong hole in the inner cover.
(If you use a migratory cover you can lift it for a quick look and put it right back)
Likewise, if you use a top-feeder as an insulating layer during winter, look in the gap in the middle.
It’s a good sign if the are plenty of bees, or even a few bees on top of the inner cover.
Lift the back of the hive. If the hive is “light” (low on stores), you can feed the bees fondant candy on top of the inner cover, or dry fondant sugar, or drivert sugar spread on the inner cover or in the top feeder. Those forms of sugar absorb water without turning to cement like ordinary cane sugar can. Place a “shim” between the inner cover and top cover to make space for the dry food.
In our climate liquid feed (1:1 or 2:1 syrup) is a viable option since the weather doesn’t get too cold.
If you use a feeder jar in the top cover, set things up so rainwater can’t get around the feeder into the hive.
(If you place the feeder jar over the hole in the inner cover, place an empty box on the inner cover and the top cover on top of the box.)
If the hive is super full of bees, and surprisingly heavy too, it may be time to add a super! In some parts of the east bay the eucalyptus are blooming. The recent rains may be making it and other nectar sources produce enough nectar for a fall/winter flow. Between now and February make sure the bees still have some empty comb to raise brood in.
A honey-bound hive now will disrupt the spring build-up. A honey-bound hive can swarm prematurely.
If you harvest a few capped frames, replace them with drawn comb if you have it.
At this time of year the bees are unlikely to draw plastic foundation, but they may draw a foundationless frame in or adjacent to the brood ball.
Fully capped frames you pull now can be frozen until you have enough of them to run your extractor; Freezing protects them from the wax moth and small hive beetle.
The cold weather is generally incompatible with commercial Varroa treatments. If you’re thinking of using a treatment, read the instructions carefully.
Randy Oliver describes some of his novel experiments with Oxalic-Acid/Glycerin treated strips or shop towels on his web site. Those (as yet unlisted, unpermitted, not yet formally authorized) treatments may be effective against phoretic Varroa through winter… also without risk to honey.
By now perhaps “Santa” bought you some woodware kits. Assemble your new box-kits with waterproof carpenters glue. Get the joints really tight!! A Pony-brand “pipe-clamp” can be used to draw the corners together.
(The joints hold themselves tight once pulled up with the clamp. So you only need one Pony.)
Be quick to get all the clamping done before the glue sets up. Use a carpenter’s Framing-square to get the box corners square so the boxes stack properly. Glue all the joints of your frames too. Make sure they’re square. A good frame-assembly fixture plan can be found at https://beesource.com/build-it-yourself/ the 10 Frame Assembly Jig.
Frames need to be assembled with great precision: Square corners, and no twist. Nails or staples or pinning is required too. The nails from the beekeeping supply house are skinnier, so they are less likely to split the frame pieces.
(If you think ACBA should have a loaner frame-assembly fixture, contact the officers)
Prime the outside of new boxes with a good quality primer. Paint the outsides with any old house-paint. A light color boxes won’t overheat in full sun on hot summer days. Boxes get grungy, so have to be repainted fairly frequently anyway. If you saved propolis scrapings, make some “propolis-varnish” (using “alcohol fuel” from the hardware store) with the propolis; paint the varnish onto the inside of the new boxes.
Review your notes. Make your plans for splitting hives to replace your winter losses, and a few extra just in case. Read up on how it’s done and watch some YouTube videos.
This is a segue into some comments about the Local Bee Initiative.
The LBI framework is ONLY exclusive in one way; the LBI insist that only LOCAL bees will be bought/sold/traded among LBI members!
The LBI is agnostic about treatment vs. non-treatment, but REQUIRES that producers of queens/nucs/colonies declare whether they are treatment or non-treatment beekeepers!!
The LBI goal is to produce enough local stock to satisfy the local demand for queens/nucs/packages/colonies.
The theory is that mass-produced commercial queens and packages have genetics that isn’t the best choice for our climate.
If you’re going to spend $$ on queens and packages anyway, let’s try to keep it local.
Local bees should (eventually) demonstrate better survivability and adaptation to local forage and microclimate quirks. The evidence, the year-to-year survival of bee trees, hints that they’re already coping with Varroa.