It is not quite spring yet, but it is warm out there - in the 60s°F today & likely into the 70s tomorrow at my house south of Lexington. I suspect hive lids are coming off all over Kentucky this week. While we need to be careful about opening our hives this time of year, one advantage of living in the upper south is that we normally get some warmer days throughout the winter. The beekeeping books, and as I advise beekeepers, say don’t open hives unless it is above 50°F, and better if above 60°F. And I also say better if a sunny days, without a cold wind blowing. Though there is not a problem with taking the lids off hives if a little below 50 (if it is not raining) to quickly do such tasks as removing miticide strips, or inserting sugar patties. In fact I did just this with my hives on such a day in early January (I think it was right around 50°F that day) to insert Apivar strips (for varroa mite control) and to place sugar patties into my colonies. This hive opening also served as an early inspection, though I did not pull any frames out. Just by removing the outer & inner cover I learned that the bees were alive and had survived the winter up to that point. What I learned:
- The size of the cluster, some almost filled the top box, others had at least covered about 6 frames – okay for early January.
- Lifting (hefting) the entire hive from the rear tell me that that all were fairly heavy, though I still added winter sugar patties (which I purchased from a local bee supply store, though you can make your own, or even put loose table sugar on top of the inner cover.) I consider the patties insurance – “just in case they need the feed”). I do not worry about them going hungry.
Since that day, I have been re-checking the sugar patties every two to three weeks. This also again gives me the opportunity to observe the cluster. I had one hive, a nuc that I purchase last June, that wintered fine in only one deep box. When I checked the patties in that hive a few days ago the bees pretty much filled the box, so I added another deep box with drawn comb that I had. I will see if they are doing anything in that new box in a few days.
Note the bees covering the frames - the "cluster", also there are some paper shreds from the winter patty that I placed on the hive. I have since added a second deep to this colony.
In a future post I will talk about what to look for when we remove frames from the brood boxes & inspect them.