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Keeping Bees in January and February

Out of sight, out of mind is not a good thing for the Tillamook beekeeper.  Here’s your to do list:

1.     Reread the November / December in the Apiary.  Most of what was written there applies to January and February, too.

2.     Hopefully, you treated your bees for varroa mites in December. If the white board indicates you still have a problem, vaporize them again with oxalic acid (OA), once every 5 to 7 days until very few mites drop. The club owns two InstantVap vaporizers which makes it easy. It’s free if you have a premium membership. Contact Deb Klumph 503-801-0959 to reserve one. Directions are on the beekeeper’s forum and come with the vaporizer.  You must have your own respirator.

3.     OSU recommends putting Apivar strips on your overwintered hives in mid-February. Apivar only works when you don’t have a severe problem.  Directions are in the Honey Bee Health Coalitions Tools for Varroa Management.  There is also a wonderful video on using Apivar in February on the beekeeper’s forum within the OSU video topic.  (Apivar warnings: only use during periods when no honey supers are on.  Recommended treatment duration is 42 days, with a maximum duration of 56 days.  There is a two week hold AFTER removal of Apivar strips before honey supers can be installed.  The effectiveness of Apivar is independent of environmental temperatures, however Apivar may be less effective during the cold months due to relatively lower bee activity within the hive environment).

4.     It’s during this time that a hive can have too much moisture and too little food.  One thing is for sure in Tillamook, it’s raining most days.  That means the bees won’t be going out on “cleansing” flights.  When the weather is clear don’t be surprised if there are more dead bees in front of the hive.  Bees may die in the hive and block the entrance.  Use your tweezers to pull them out.

5.     If you find moisture in your hive, be sure to add insulation below and above your outer cover.  For better moisture control, place shims under the back of the hive boxes or hive stand to slightly tilt the boxes forward.  This allows internal water to run down the front inside of the boxes and out the entrance or screen bottom board rather than raining upon the winter cluster.  See suggestions for ventilation.

6.     Keep hefting your hive using one hand. It should be hard to lift.  If not, it’s critical you feed. You may need to add a spacer if you didn’t put one on when you winterized. Some options include granulated sugar, a sugar block from TCCA Farm Store, or fondant.  You can put sugar on a newspaper on top of the frames or put it on the inner cover. The best is to make a healthy mixture which includes a nutrient supplement like Megabee, available at the Farm store.  Be aware that in winter, bees need water to process hard sugar.  They will utilize internal water sources (condensation) but realize that collecting water outside is dependent upon environmental temperatures. 

7.     If you know that one of your hives has died, take any opportunity to go through that hive. Use Dewey Caron’s Dead Colony Forensics to help figure out what might have happened.  If you have a small cluster of live bees, send them off to OSU for free analysis. See  Remove all dead outs from apiary to prevent future robbing.  Be aware that if pathogens are present such as Nosema or Foulbrood, any resources including comb, pollen, and honey should never be recycled.  If equipment is to be reused, foundations should be scraped clean, and these plus frames should be disinfected.  Boxes can be cleaned, and internal surfaces fire scorched with a torch.  In worse case scenarios such as American Foulbrood, all equipment should be incinerated as AF spores can be viable for decades.

8.     Also, for dead hives.   Any frames with capped honey you can save for your spring colonies.  Frames with nectar will ferment and be useless to humans and bees.  Move those frames into another living colony or loan them to a bee buddy or just put them out on a warm day for open feeding of your bees.  Be very aware that sharing resources within an apiary, or even with a fellow beekeeper defeats any purpose of trying to maintain some sort of biosecurity within your operations.  Sharing resources is an unintentional way of sharing pathogens, let alone mites.  If you bought a nuc last year, chances are good the wax on the five frames that came with the nuc are very black.  They are considered unhealthy from years of miticides and potential viruses.  They are absolutely perfect for a bait hive. They will attract swarms. Just don’t put them back in your main hive. Otherwise, you can remove the drawn wax by putting it outside on a warm sunny day.  The wax will soften and easily roll off your hive tool or putty knife.

9.     It’s a suitable time for planning.  Are your hives where you want them?  Are equipment repairs needed?  If you are for it, winter is a wonderful time to build new frames and boxes, paint the exterior boxes and wax new foundation.  Are they too close to one another? Would it help to have a tarp under the hive to keep the grass from growing up? Are you going to use a different varroa treatment plan this year? Spec it out. What frustrated you about beekeeping? Do some online research on the subject. This is a suitable time to have fresh laundered bee clothing and clean tools ready to go.   Plan how you are going to replace old comb frames with new foundation.  Ideally one should rotate 2-3 of the oldest frames and replace them with new ones.  Old combs tend to accumulate chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and pathogen spores that are present in our environment.  Remember, brood rearing on the coast can begin as early as Jan or Feb, so even though it looks like all is quiet, the bees are already starting to gear up for the season.  Continue to evaluate the weight of your hive boxes throughout the winter months. Always examine hive entrance for any blockages such as dead bees. 

10.  Prepare to order NUCs, packages and/or queens for the upcoming spring.

11.  Be sure to come to the monthly TBA meeting.

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