Sunday, January 6, 2013

January Thaw

Winters in the temperate Mid-South are not continuous. There are cold periods interrupted every few weeks by mild days. Even though this region’s coldest months are January and February, it is not uncommon for winds to shift from north to south to bring a few warm days, a January thaw. These breaks in the weather give honey bees an opportunity to break out of their winter cluster to eat food stores in the hive, make cleansing flights, and even scout for food to forage. Today, I found the first wildflowers of the year in bloom, dandelions. Winter bees often forage dandelions for pollen.

Warm days also give beekeepers a chance to make a brief check of bee hives. With temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and no strong breezes, it is safe to open the cover of the hives and peer inside. We don’t, however, want to make a deep inspection of the hives until the temperatures warm considerably.  Today, with warm temperatures and mild breezes, I lifted the hives a couple of inches from the rear to feel the weight of each hive. I then checked the food stores on light weight hives. Most hives held a full box of capped honey above the cluster of bees. In one hive I found the cluster had moved to the very top of the upper box. Bees located in this position during mid-winter are quite vulnerable to die from starvation. Even though the hive contained plenty of honey, colonies often do not move through the hive to access the food as they need it. Clusters of bees tend to move upward in the hive during winter months and not downward. Breaking apart a hive in cool weather may chill the bees and any brood. Rearranging a hive in mid-winter is also risky. Emergency feeding helps protect vulnerable colonies. Today, I poured several pounds of granulated sugar atop the inner cover of the hive for the bees to access from the center hole.

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