Inside the hive, honey bee colonies are gathered in a very tight cluster, endeavoring to stay warm, and consuming very little food. On days when the wind is calm and the temperature rises above 50F, a few honey bees may be seen flying about for the purpose of taking a “cleansing flight.” Since honey bees do not go to the bathroom inside their hive, they fly out on warm days and this is called a cleansing flight. Winter honey bees live a little longer than honey bees during the summer, but the beekeeper must remember that honey bees live very short lives—approximately 4 to 6 months for winter bees, and 3 to 6 weeks for summer bees as they work themselves to death foraging. Many of your honey bees will die during the winter months due to old age. When honey bees die during the winter, they fall to the bottom of the hive and are later carried outside and discarded on warm days by their sisters. In the summer, dead honey bees are immediately carried outside the hive by their sisters. But during the wintertime, while the colony is clustered for warmth, dead honey bee carcasses accumulate on the bottom board. When snow covers the ground you will notice more dead honey bees around your hives. This is normal. Do not worry or panic! It is merely a sign of a strong colony when they carry out dead honey bee carcasses. But do not worry if you do not see any dead carcasses. It just means they will probably take care of this housekeeping matter sometime later.
Monitor your hives to make sure winter winds have not disturbed the top covers. Also, after a snowfall, make sure all of the openings are checked and cleared so that the honey bees can continue to get enough air, and move freely in and out of the entrance on warm days for cleansing flights. This will also prevent a dangerous buildup of excessive moisture in the hive, which otherwise could prove deadly to the inhabiting colony (consider drilling a 5/8-inch upper entrance hole above the handle of the upper deep hive body, in autumn, or place a small twig under the front edge of the outer top cover to help ventilate year round).
IF there is an exceptionally warm day or two in January (e.g., a “January thaw”), beekeepers would be wise to conduct a “brief winter inspection” to determine if the colony is surviving and has adequate food supply (also known as “stores”). Conduct such inspection by the middle of January, and no later than the third week (hopefully, a similar inspection was conducted just prior to Christmas for the same reasons). Continue monitoring for adequate food supply every 10 to 14 days to help ensure the survivability of colonies—even then, catastrophic events can occur. If there is insufficient food for a colony, the beekeeper MUST IMMEDIATELY implement “emergency feeding” options (see February information, large 4 to 5 pound “sugar patties” large zip-lock freezer bags, plain dry granulated white sugar, or large “fondant patties,” work extremely well—check out www.nemoba.org/resources, under Supplemental Feeding Info, for recipes). DO NOT offer sugar-syrup, as it will freeze and probably result in a dead colony of honey bees due to complete starvation (note that molasses should never be fed to honey bees).
URGENT ACTION FOR JANUARY: ORDER PACKAGE HONEY BEES, NUCS, AND EQUIPMENT AS EARLY IN JANUARY AS POSSIBLE!!
Most honey bee suppliers will completely sell out of package honey bees by the end of January. For best results, you must call and place your honey bee order as soon as you can during the first week of January. Otherwise, you may not be able to secure your honey bee purchases for the entire year.
Packages are normally set for delivery or pickup the first or third week of April. “Nucs” (nucleus colonies) normally are not available until mid-May or sometimes in early July. Beekeepers can expect Nucs to cost between $150-$185 each, while 3 lb. packages with a mated queen can be found for $100-$125 each. *Additional note: Make sure to join or renew membership in your local beekeeping organization, attend their meetings, read up on beekeeping during winter months, and clean up smokers and hive tools in January. CONSIDER REGISTERING FOR A BEEKEEPING SCHOOL OR COURSE to update your knowledge, skills, and be exposed to the latest beekeeping information.