We’ve reached the halfway point in the beekeeper’s winter (October 1st thru March 31st)! So far, the winter in central Wisconsin has been upside down. Snow in October and warmer weather in December. Hopefully your bees are warm and snug in their hives because January is usually the critical time frame when the majority of winter losses occur.
December 29th, 49F, 12:30PM
On the last few days of December I went out and checked my hives and winter nucs. It was odd to not trudge through the snow on my rounds. I added emergency sugar to those hives that needed it. As mentioned previously the bee clusters in almost all hives were in the upper brood chamber. Other ECWBA members reported the same observation at the December club meeting.
The winter nucs are doing well also. Two weeks ago I thought the nuc on the right side was dead. They proved me wrong and made a showing in the warm weather.
So far 98% of my hives and 98% of the winter nucs are alive. The survival of the nucs continues to surprise me. Weren't we always told that it takes a big cluster to get through winter? The mite control and feeding last summer and fall is paying off. But to repeat, January is usually the critical time for hive survival. At that time, when in tight cluster and immobilized by the extreme cold, the bees are most susceptible to varroa born viruses and starvation. At any rate I will be worrying about their survival until the end of March. The worrying is the plight of all dedicated beekeepers.
January is the time when the queen also begins slowly laying again. This will limit the movement of the cluster since the eggs and brood must be kept warm. Consequently, the chances of starvation are increased. Placing an emergency sugar disc in the center of the hive on the top of the frames will lessen the chances of starvation. The cost of a few pounds of sugar is cheap insurance against starvation and the need to buy a replacement package or nuc.
On the cold and rainy and snowy days in January I will be assembling additional frames. Call me a traditionalist, but I feel the bees like wooden frames with wax foundation over the newfangled plastic frames. In my experience the bees seem to ignore and not draw out plastic frames more than a year old. Apparently, the ultra thin wax coating sprayed on the plastic evaporates over time and after that the bees avoid using it. Dealing with undrawn plastic frames is just another task that I would like to avoid in the rush of the summer beekeeping season. Instead I build a wax foundation frames in the winter. One of the myriad of different choices a different beekeepers routinely make. If you like plastic frames and foundation go with your preference.