Grueling Months of Survival for Honeybees

by Kim Rivera, Addicted Beekeeper, Backyard Bees of Bend

February, March and April are the grueling months of survival for honeybees. However, our hives’ welfare has already been set in motion by some basic contributing factors:

1. Sufficient colony size
2. Honey stores available
3. The varroa mite load going into winter
4. The hive preparation (protection from wind, moisture buildup management etc.)

What can you do for them now? When the weather does permit, heft the back of your hive to access weight of honey stores. When we have an over 50-degree day, you may open the hive to add honey frames or move outside honey frames closer to the cluster area if needed. Keep in mind — only open the hive if you suspect starvation is a possibility. If you don’t have honey, you may add fondant. Never feed syrup during the winter months, even if the weather turns warmer for a few days. The girls can’t turn it into honey in cold weather, and it only brings moisture and possible dysentery. Unless you suspect a food storage deficiency, it is best to not open or disrupt the hive.

The size of the winter cluster reflects the external temperature. A four frame cluster’s diameter will go from 15 inches at 5 degrees, down to about 10 inches in -4 degrees, and amazingly 4 inches at -26 degrees. Most colonies have consumed all of the honey in the lower hive body, and are now up near the upper hive body. This makes it easy to feed them should the need arise.

Clearing the bottom entrance of dead bees is a good idea. Their soggy wet bodies do no good clogging up the exit. Make sure lids are on top and not blown off, or the hive has not become lopsided or worse due to moist dirt giving way underneath. I have had gopher holes collapse under my hives when the ground got moist and almost toppled over my hive!

As unbelievable as it may sound, your girls are already increasing the brood being raised. As the days get longer, the brood area gets larger. Thus, colonies are actually raising brood during the coldest, nastiest time of year. The introduction of fresh pollen, or even a pollen patty, really catapults the colony into brood building. They are already preparing for spring to have the numbers needed to swarm, or at the least, replace winter losses and build up for the first nectar flows. This careful balance between lower stores, increasing brood and unforeseeable weather conditions make February through April critical. Natures innate wisdom often can successfully guide them through the use of their resources and bring them out alive into spring. (Cross your fingers!)

Now, though, is a good time to re-evaluate winter hive location. If your hive could have received better sunlight in an adjusted location rather than where it presently is, keep note of that for your next hive — or perhaps scooting your present hive to a better location once the summer comes along. Now is a good time to research how to do a mite count, or review your choices for mite treatment for the spring. It’s also time to put in your orders for bees, and to dreamily browse through bee journals, magazines and books. We, like our girls, can enjoy a little down time before the explosive energy of spring and summer starts us rocketing forward in bee activity once again.

Soon, we will get our first sting of the year! I can’t WAIT!!!!!

If you are wanting to order a nucleus (starter) hive of bees that will come in May, write me at with ‘Nuc Order’ in the subject line. Put in your contact information. This will reserve your bees. Prices are estimated to be in around $150. Meanwhile, you can get your hive, figure your location and then have your bees on order.

Oh, and I have honey for sale for persons wanting to treat allergies with it.

Good beekeeping to all!

photos courtesy of Backyard Bees of Bend and Dirty Girl Gardening LLC

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