January - February
1. Make sure any medication left in your hives is removed on time (see manufacturer's instruction for time in hive).
Get all fall 2015 and spring 2016 medication out of your hives 4 weeks before putting honey supers on.
2. Check all of your hives for food stores and feed if necessary
A good way to check is to “heft” you hives, which means to lift one side then the other. If the hive feels light, you need to feed it. If you check the hives often enough, you will become familiar with the weights that are in the normal range and with those that are not. Comparing the weights of different hives is another good way to determine the amount of stores. If you find a hive or two that’s unusually light, you need to feed. A surplus of 60 pounds is a good goal.
Do not use Boardman Feeders (those that fit in holders on the outside at the bottom board entrance) in cold weather. Bees cluster in cold weather and can not move outside the hive to get the food. Boardman feeders are also notorious for causing robbing if the weather warms to the point that the bees can fly. They also attract ants. Boardman feeders work better if placed on top of the inner cover with their "bee entrance" near the vent hole, then place an empty super between the inner and outer cover.
Frame feeders (division board feeders) are OK except a frame has to be removed put it in (ie..they replace a frame). Their disadvantage is that you have to open the hive to see fill them or just to see if feed is needed. They will generally drown some bees. If you do not take them out during a honey flow, the bees will likely build comb in them.
Baggie feeders will work, but they do require that the bees break cluster and that will be a problem in prolonged cold weather. They also require an un-reusable plastic bag and a feeder box (spacer) to surround the bag above the brood. Baggie feeders are best used over a queen excluder so that the bag can be moved if need be without spilling liquid feed. To fill the bag, I find it best to place the empty plastic baggie inside a 2 lb coffee can. Then fill the baggie inside the can to the top of the can. Then remove the baggie with syrup and place it on top of the queen excluder and cut the feeding slits on the top side (This procedure was developed by Bill Mullins).
Probably, the best method is a feeder in a hole of the inner cover. It delivers the feed right where the bees need it and it is very unlikely to cause robbing. It is easy to see if feed is available and can easily be replaced with a full jar if needed. It is best to empty deep or medium super box on top of the inner cover, with the outer cover on top if it, to protect the feeder jar and seal out robbers. In warm weather, you can stand bricks on end to space the outer cover above the inner cover then place at least 3 bricks on top of the outer cover to prevent wind blowing the outer cover off.
If you checked for stores recently – do it again and do it often. In warm winter weather the bees will fly more thus using their stores more rapidly.
If you fed a hive heavily in late summer, especially a new swarm or hive, check the often for feed as it is not at all uncommon for them to have used your feed to produce new bees instead of storing it. Those young bees will be hungry!
For survival feeding; feed as strong a mixture of sugar to water as you can. For brood stimulation feed a 50/50 mixture (by weight) of sugar to water. If you opt to stimulate brood rearing, start feeding the weak mixture around mid February in north Alabama and be prepared to make splits or to hive swarms. I find that 3 gallon of water mixed with 50 lbs of sugar makes a saturated mix (about 2:1) however in the cold winter weather the water needs to be increased to 3 1/2 gallons of water to 50 lbs of sugar to prevent the syrup from crystallizing in the jar if an external feeder jar is used.
If you opt to stimulate feed, consult an experienced local knowledgeable beekeeper for advice. The goal of stimulation feeding is to try and get large populations of worker bees at the beginning of the bloom season. That is a noble goal but large volumes of bees (crowding) appears to be a major factor in swarm production. Stimulation feeding works very well if you plan on making splits and you do make them early.
It is a good idea to include Fumidil-B or Fumigillin (same chemical but easier to mix) in your feed syrup. In past years Fumidil-B was prescribed to prevent Nosema apis. Nosema apis has not been a known real problem in north Alabama due primarily to our warm winters however we now have to be concerned about Nosema ceranae.
I know of no cases of Nosema ceranae in Alabama but other parts of the US is reporting colony loses due to Nosema ceranae.
3. What to Feed options:
There are several options for the type of feed to use. You can use Fructose 55, which is very convenient, and consists of 77% dissolved solids and 23% water, by weight. The solids are Fructose 55%, Dextrose 40% and other sugars 5%. That means it has a combined sugar/water ratio of over 3 to 1. If you want to use this in a 1 to 1 ratio to stimulate brood rearing, you need to add four parts water to five parts Fructose 55 by volume. In other words, for every 5 gallons of Fructose55 you use, mix 4 gallons of water to achieve a sugar/water ratio of 1 to 1.
Another option is to simply use sugar. Sugar is mainly Sucrose, not Fructose, thus the ash content is lower which is good for confined bees.
Another option is to use honey. Old honey, from dead hives or honey taken from a wax-melter is often used for bee feed (I prefer not to feed honey that has been heated to a high temperature as a wax melter might). A problem with used or old honey is there may be foulbrood spores or other disease in it that can infect the colony. If you know the source of the honey and are confident it is not infected, it will make a good feed for a weak hive. BUT USE WITH CAUTION!
4. Start getting ready for spring; it is just around the corner.
Get queens, packages and or splits on order ASAP. Make sure you know who you are getting splits from as this can be a way to gain diseases and beetles.
Place no orders for splits from any supplier until you have verified the quality of the splits.
If in doubt, contact the regional Alabama State Bee Inspector and ask if the source you are considering has been inspected and passed or is certified. If they have not, don't buy the bees.
Since Alabama is a closed boarder state, it is illegal to bring splits into Alabama from other states. This is a good thing and may well be the reason that no known cases of Nosema ceranae have been reported in Alabama to date.
Remove, render or dispose of old black comb from frames that are not now in hives. If you set up "bait hives" in the spring, you might consider saving any old dark combs as the bees seem to prefer old dark combs. You may need to treat old dark combs with paradichlorobenzene (moth crystals). It has been my experience that "well aired out" combs that have been treated with paradichlorobenzene are very attractive to swarm scout bees as are the paper combs left from rendering the beeswax out in a solar wax melter.
Check your yard for “dead outs”. Get them out of the yard now and clean them up ready for re-use.
Old, black comb makes excellent fireplace starter material. Use it sparingly as a little goes a long way. Also I have no idea if and to what degree it might add creosote to your chimney.
Old black comb is also very good to use in swarm traps (bait hives) and now is the time to get your swarm traps (bait hives) in order for spring swarms.
5. Get old frames cleaned, wired and ready for foundation particularly for your swarm collection hives and new start colonies (hold off on installing foundation until as close as possible to actual need – the bees seem to like the fresh wax smell).
6. Get your order placed ASAP for new wood that will need to be painted.
Get the wood painted so the paint can cure before you install bees. (Hives and related wood ware need not be painted on the inside, just the surface that will be exposed to weather. It is a good idea to paint both sides of a reversible bottom board and the wood on "wood framed" queen excluders).
If you are using soft wood, it is best to dip (not soak) the corners (end grain) of all surfaces exposed to the weather in Copper Naphthenate (wood preserver) and let them dry thoroughly before building. Make sure you use a wood preserver that can be painted over. It has been my experience in the last few years that soaking wood in Copper Naphthenate will cause soft wood to absorb too much Copper Naphthenate. The excess Copper Naphthenate will bleed through the paint when exposed to summer heat. It appears the manufactures of Copper Naphthenate have improved its ability to penetrating soft wood.
I find that soaking the corners of "built supers" results in the Copper Naphthenate (wood preserver) softening the glue. That's why I recommend dipping the corners, let them dry and then build.
If you use cypress wood, Copper Naphthenate is not required but can be used. You do not really have to paint cypress but I recommend that you do.
7. Do not go into the hives at this time unless there is a compelling reason to do so.
8. To date this has been a very warm winter in north Alabama. Don’t worry about keeping your bees warm. Ventilation is far more important than keeping them warm.
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Last updated 1/13/2016 brf