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Back to the Basics

Winter tends to be a blessing and a curse for beekeepers. There is no working the hive once it is closed up for winter and as a consequence there is no way to tell what is going on inside. Do they need food? Are they frozen inside the hive? It’s warm, why are they not out foraging? I’m not hearing any sounds in the hive. Beekeepers can become paranoid waiting for spring to come with all these questions going through their mind. Sometimes they are warranted but mostly they are just unreasonable fears. We occasionally have to sit on our hands and wait for spring.

Carrying out a full inspection of your hive before temperatures reach the 50’s or 60’s can be detrimental to the colony. You want to wait until temperatures begin to rise before opening your hive. A good indicator is to wait until you see bees coming and going at which point you can check to see how your hive is faring.

If this paranoid feeling is just eating at you and there is no way to talk yourself out of opening up your hives until temperatures rise, here are some things to consider:

Weather. Check your local weather forecast for temperature and wind speed. Obviously you want to aim for the warmest part of the day but also consider gust of wind coming through as you are working your hive. Remember that opening your hive will release any trapped heat your colony has created.

Location of Cluster. If your hive consists of four hive bodies, you want to know specifically where the cluster is located. Checking each super for bees means more time your colony is exposed to cold temperatures. Simply knock on the side of your hive and listen for the cluster to buzz.

What are your intentions. You do not want to do a complete hive inspection in freezing weather. Know what you are doing before you open the hive. Have all your tools and feed ready for when you open the hive. The least amount of time exposed to the cold the better off your hive will be.

If your main objective is to provide feed for your bees and nothing else, prying the cover open briefly to provide fondant or sugar candy is not as risky as taking the cover completely off. If you happen to get a sunny day in the 40’s, throw some fondant on the top bars. Emergency feeding will help pull your hive through these last few weeks of cold weather.

Remember that opening your hive for a full inspection in winter can be detrimental. Try to hold off until the weather is favorable for your hive.