The days are becoming slightly longer and warmer. These changes begin to announce the coming end of winter and nature prepares itself for spring. The slightly warmer days trigger the honey bee queens to start or increase the laying of eggs again. The clustered colony has worked its way upward into the top deep brood chamber, devouring available honey and pollen stores to generate additional heat—approximately 93 degrees (Fahrenheit)—which is needed to protect and raise early spring brood. Otherwise, the colony is behaving the same as in January; they remain in a very tight cluster for warmth.
CHECK THE STATUS OF YOUR COLONIES!! Do this early in the month (Groundhog Day is a good rule of thumb). The delay of this inspection, will OFTEN result in many “dead out” colonies—the result of starvation.
On a warm day, 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) or more, you can briefly open hive covers for a quick inspection of the colony and its general hive conditions. Quickly move any needed frames of honey closer to the cluster, but DO NOT break apart or disturb the cluster for any reason (it is too cold). During this inspection, the beekeeper needs to determine whether the colony has sufficient stored honey for food. If sufficient or adequate food stores are not observed, DO NOT DELAY implementing “EMERGENCY FEEDING” of colonies (some beekeepers do so as a preventive, regardless). Many colonies die of starvation between February 1st through March 31st each year. This is due to increased demand for stores during brood rearing in preparation for spring nectar flows.
Emergency feeding is just that . . . an emergency. IMMEDIATELY, as opposed to sometime later, get some sugar or honey into the hive. Dry or loose sugar can work, but only if the honey bees have enough warm days to encourage them fly out for water—not likely, however. In very cold regions, there may not be enough warm days to consider the practice of dry sugar feedings or even hard candy feedings. Sometimes sponges soaked in heavy sugar-syrup can be jammed between the frames near the cluster. You can also place a plastic zip-lock freezer bag full of sugar-syrup (if 50 degrees or warmer) directly over the cluster, but be certain to poke a few holes or make small slits in the top side of the bag. If temperatures drop below 45 degrees, or back to freezing, consider replacing sugar-syrup baggies with “sugar patties” (see January information). Do anything you can think of to introduce sugar, syrup, or honey into the hive . . . anything is better than letting the colony starve to death. Of course, if you have frames of your own honey available, that is the best way to feed them, but most beekeepers will have sold all their honey by now.
Beekeepers might also consider placing a “winter patty” (low protein patty) on top of the frames in the upper hive body or deep box. This works extremely well if the end of winter is extremely mild. Pollen, or pollen patties, will stimulate the laying of more eggs by the queen. However, if the weather turns cold again, the honey bees may not be able to keep this early brood warm and fed. It is a gamble for our northern climate, but many times it is worth the effort to increase colony strength and worker numbers prior to the coming spring nectar flow. Finally, if beekeepers did not order their package bees in January, do it now! Also, the same can be said for new equipment orders, as time is now of the essence! Beekeepers will want to have all hive equipment ready by March.