November and December are months requiring minimal hive management but there are still some “To-do’s”. As mentioned in the October calendar, good ventilation is key to a successful wintering of your colonies.
- Ensure your colony has both a bottom entrance and an upper entrance (on same side of the hive) and keep them clear of debris (or snow and ice).
- Tip the entire hive slightly forward with shims underneath the rear of the hive, so that moisture from condensation created by the warmth of the cluster is directed to the front of the hive, rather than dripping back down on top of the bees. Moisture management is especially important in January when brood rearing and metabolism increase hive moisture.
Although the bees are now clustered together in dormancy, periodic warm spells allow them to break their cluster, move closer to stored honey, and make those all important cleansing (defecating) flights.
Assessing Colony Health
- One way to determine the viability of the hive is to place your ear against the wall, thump it with your hand, and listen for the buzz. Another indication of health is flying activity during a warm spell. Are some of the colonies very active and one or more with no activity?
- Never open a hive unless the temperature is at least 45°F. You might want to open it to add feed. (See next paragraph)
- Work around the cluster – not through it.
To assess food stores tip the hive from the back and judge the weight on a scale of light to heavy. Do not feed syrup at this time because bees cannot remove the extra moisture. Excess water in the bees diet plus confinement leads to dysentery.
For hives low on food stores, feed frames of honey, fondant, or dry sugar
Feeding Fondant: An ideal way to feed fondant is to use lids with rims and to place the fondant directly into the void. These lids can have up to 5 pounds of feed and last 2-3 weeks.
Feeding Dry sugar: Can be done with granulated sugar or baker’s sugar (called drivert) and applied using the mountain camp method as described at http://www.honeybeesuite.com/mountain-camp-feeder-use-for-winter-feeding-only/
Drivert sugar has existed for at least 30 years as an alternative to granulated sugar. (What is Drivert Sugar? An explanation from Blakes Cakes on the cakecentral .com forum: Drivert sugar is an extra fine powdered sugar with no cornstarch and 8% invert sugar. It retains more moisture because of this.) Michael Bush thinks the bees take it better than common granulated sugar.
In addition – From Ruhl Bee Supply: This (drivert) sugar can be fed directly to bees without mixing into a syrup. This means less work, less mess, and less moisture in the hive–and the bees love it. It has a texture somewhere between powdered sugar and fine table sugar, but is much softer to the touch than table sugar. Unlike powdered sugar, it has no corn starch.
This sugar is a favorite of bakers because 8% of it is inverted, giving it a moisture retaining ability, which bakers love. Note, Drivert sugar should not be used as a substitute for sugar syrup feeding, but is an excellent supplement at certain times of the year, and is being used increasingly by commercial beekeepers.
Content in this month’s Hive Calendar includes ideas from the Oregon State Beekeepers’ Association – Thanks OSBA!