Seasonal transitions can seem slow or sudden. Sometimes we are caught unprepared when our temperatures drop overnight. Even during a single day, our temperatures can shift +/- 20°F or more from dawn to dusk. This post will highlight some of the changes you can expect in our area during the fall-to-winter transition period.
Hopefully, you’ve done your final mite count of the season. If you haven’t, you can try to utilize a warm day (>65°F) to do your varroa mite count.
This is also the time to help your bees build up their winter stores. Ideally, you want your bees going into winter with 60+lbs of resources (honey, pollen, bee bread) which is roughly the equivalent of one ten-frame medium super. I prefer to have 80+lbs going into winter, you’d be surprised how quickly they’ll eat through their stores! On cooler days throughout the winter you can perform a heft test to estimate your hive’s stores. To do your heft test, start by lifting your hive(s) from the back. If your hive is very easy to lift then you need to feed. If your hive is moderately heavy, recheck in a week or so. If your hive is hard to lift, your bees probably have sufficient stores.
December - January
The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Our days tend to be more on the cooler side (lows around 30°F and highs around 51°F on average). Your bees are hunkered down in their cluster, staying warm together. Interestingly, the cluster can maintain a temperature of approximately 85°F throughout the winter. If you are planning on using oxalic acid as a varroa mite treatment, now would be the time to administer the vaporization or dribble method. The ideal temperature range for oxalic acid treatments is 40-50°F. If you are using the dribble method, you run the risk of chilling brood when the temperature is under 40°F. This is also a great time of year to clean, paint, and refresh any older or unused equipment. Now is the time to prepare for the spring swarm season. Winter is also a great time to study with local bee clubs (several host bee schools during the winter months) or read a new book. As the year begins anew and the days start to lengthen we can start looking ahead to coming out of our winter slumber.
February can be hit or miss in our area. Some folks will start to see their queen establish her laying pattern and brood beginning to be reared while others are still snuggling up underneath snow-ladened hive tops. Regardless, by the end of February, most hives will start to move out of their cluster to clean the hive out and start foraging for the new season. If your hives are feeling light, you can start to feed sugar syrup again with supplemental pollen (either in patties or free feeding) to help give your colonies some extra protein. Keep in mind that overfeeding during early spring can cause early swarms so make sure you’re not overfeeding your colonies. As February moves into March we start to see more dandelions, alders, willows, and maples begin to bloom. Temperatures might also be warm enough for you to do a full hive inspection at this point.
Overwintering can feel like a daunting task. It’s also a great time to snuggle close, read a good bee book, and start preparing for spring. If you have any questions, give us a call!