By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
How are your bees? Look at the entrance… Look inside if the day is warm enough.
Are the foragers bringing in nectar and pollen too? Are new foragers orienting in the afternoon? If the answer is, “Yes!” (Depending, of course on temperature) your bees are doing well. If you only see a few bees, or if the bees look like they might be robbers, you better investigate.
Analyze, analyze, and analyze your dead-outs. Was it clumsy beekeeping? Some pathogen? Varroa PMS? Weak genetics? Unexpected bad weather (see clumsy beekeeping)? Ask your mentor about your observations, or find a mentor, or consult the Internet for information or references to possible solutions.
One Internet example of this is A Field Guide to Honey Bees and Their Maladies http://extension.psu.edu/publications/agrs-116/view (which has a link for downloading the booklet)
Weigh your hives (lift the back end of the hive), and compare with the weight in your notes from last month. The difference will be the stores used offset by the increase in bee population (brood and new workers) augmented by fresh nectar and fresh honey the foragers brought in. Our bees will eat through stores on days they’re kept in due to cold and rain. So we’re not out of the woods yet. Colonies still need one to three frames of honey reserves per brood box to cope with bad weather depending on forage in your neighborhood. Our deepest winter weather is like spring in a temperate climate… and spring blooms are on the way. Eucalyptuses, Rosemary, New Zealand Tea-Tree are blooming in our neighborhood. Single box hives heavy with honey and multiple frames full of pollen (colonies with only a couple of frames for brood) won’t have the space to build up properly. Move half the honey and some pollen up into the middle of a second box, and add drawn frames to the lower box if you have them.
The only colonies making drones right now have queens with fertility problems. Those colonies will supersede their queens as soon as conditions are “right.”
Colony splitting plans should be delayed until adult drones are found in hives. Drones will be sexually mature a couple of weeks after they emerge. Queens take a couple of weeks to develop from eggs. When swarm-postings begin to appear on the swarm-list, it will be time to look for drones in our hives and consider splitting… If not planning to split, swarm-control management practices may be needed. Deploy a bait-hive/swarm trap in the yard in late January or February to catch surprise swarms from your hive(s), or possibly interlopers from the neighborhood.
It’s time to assemble the new beekeeping wood ware Santa brought so it will be ready when needed. Glue the corners with a waterproof wood-glue (TiteBond ii or iii, or Elmers Glue Max, or Original Gorilla, etc.). Use a carpenter framing-square to get all the corners right. If you don’t have a framing-square, make sure the diagonals are of equal length before the glue sets up, and that the box doesn’t wobble when placed on a flat surface. Paint the outside of boxes with a good primer, and a coat of house paint. Dark colors will absorb heat. Light colors will stay cooler in the summer sun. If you saved propolis, dissolve it in alcohol from the paint department. (10% Gum turpentine helps dissolve more solids) The tincture/varnish painted on box edges and inside surfaces suppresses bacteria, and mildew growth. Apply propolis to inner covers, the under-side of migratory covers and to bottom boards too.
At the end of the month remove and extract frames of capped honey to give the bees more space for brood and new nectar. Leave behind partly capped frames since they will probably have new nectar in uncapped cells. If honey is crystallized you can re-liquify it by holding it at a temperature of at most 122ºF for a day, but freeze the frames first to kill wax moth and destroy the eggs too. DON’T heat frames in an oven, especially a gas oven; the temperature swings are so wide that there is a risk of melting wax and maybe a house fire.
Look over your beekeeping notes from last spring. Make sure you have all you need for swarm management.
– Drawn frames you’ve scraped the propolis and burr comb from
– New, or Undrawn, or Foundationless frames
– A spare bottom board and top cover for that split you didn’t expect to have to make…
Read another book or some articles out of the journals… We can stumble across useful nugget even in articles that don’t speak to our climate.