Friday, January 26, 2018

The January Thaw

In the middle of the winter we often experience a short period of warm weather, a “January thaw.” During such a warm spell, bees will break out of their winter cluster to move about the hive and collect stored honey. If outside temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, bees will be seen flying from the hive. Some are gathering nectar from skunk cabbage and dandelions; some are collecting water to liquify stored honey; and some are making cleansing flights to eliminate stored body waste. The January thaw is a good time for the beekeeper to make his or her first quick check of the bee hives. Since there is likely to be brood in the hives, they cannot be opened for a thorough inspection. We don’t want to break apart the brood nest or leave the hive open except for a very short time else risk chilling and killing the brood. However, we can determine whether a particular hive is running out of stored food by gently lifting the back of the hive and comparing its weight to other hives. Any light-weight hives likely need some emergency feeding to carry the bees through the winter. Also, any hives that show large numbers of bees located in the upper-most portion of the hive likely need emergency feeding. The bees in these hives have likely consumed the stored honey above their brood nest, or their stored honey is located in a portion of the hive that the bees will not access. In either case, the colonies risk starvation, the greatest killer of honey bees.

Mid-winter feeding of bees is emergency feeding. It can be accomplished by feeding full frames of honey taken from other hives or from the beekeeper’s storage. Gently scratch the capping to expose the honey, and place the frames directly above the brood nest. Dry sugar can be fed above the hive’s inner cover as in today’s photo. A wooden shim lifts the outer cover to accommodate extra sugar.


  1. Hi Richard
    My wife and I are Advanced Master Beekeepers in the Texas program. I have a friend who is trying sugar on a paper plate on the top of frames with a shim to give bee space. He is happy with the system.
    Of course, Central Texas is warmer than Arkansas, but this January I began feeding dry pollen in PVC pipe feeders and our bees are swarming around those feeders. It is a beautiful thing to watch. I am also trying open feeding of light syrup for the first time. We put an old deep box, bottom board and top with frame feeders in it (and a cinder block on top to discourage the raccoons) out about 400 feet from our colonies. It is interesting to compare the bee population going after the pollen sub vs light syrup. Right now there are a lot more bees collecting the pollen.
    Thanks for the great post. Joe and Lolita
    Bee Peaceful Beekeeping

  2. Joe and Lolita,
    It looks like you are very effectively tending to your honey bees’ nutrition needs. The dry sugar fed inside the hives, directly above the brood nest, is located in the most likely place for the bees to access the sugar during cold weather. Feeding dry pollen substitute outside the hives provides necessary protein, and it stimulates the queens to lay eggs. Feeding thin syrup stimulates the bees to forage for nectar. Your placement of the common feeding station 400 yards away from the hives helps prevent bees from robbing your hives. The stimulating effect of your feeding should have your hive populations expanding rapidly by early spring.
    Congratulations to you for your participation in the Texas Master Beekeeper Program!