Winter Blahs - Ray Lackey
How are your bees doing? I hope you had them prepared for the winter. Don't forget to get out there and clear drifted snow away from the entrances since it will often melt and refreeze into a solid block of ice and prevent air exchange and bee access. Make sure the mouse guards are still in place. Be ready to supply supplemental feed as winter stores are consumed and brood rearing gets going in late winter. You have all of this to do so why are you feeling down. The bees aren't sitting still, and neither should you.
Even though you don't see them, the bees are very active. The queen has started laying the eggs that will be your field force come spring. A normal worker bee only lives for six weeks but the winter bees live for several months, partially protected from the normal wear and tear on their bodies. They are, however, reaching the end of their expected lifetime and will fail fast as they start making flights. Your bees thus need to be raising replacements.
The replacements are expensive for your bees to raise at this time of year. Each worker bee larva requires one cell of honey to develop and grow to maturity. Thus as the brood area expands, so does the honey consumption. The developing larva requires protein besides the honey. The bees stored some pollen under honey last fall for this time. If they deplete the pollen, which has lost some of its available protein anyway, the nurse bees start taking protein from their own bodies to make up their dietary needs, further depleting your bees. Supplemental feeding of sugar water and a pollen substitute can be a big boost to the colony at this time of the year.
Each day that the weather warms up a little, say around 50 degrees F, your bees will get out and about. As a minimum, they will take cleansing flights to dump digestive wastes. The scouts will also hunt for any blooming plants. Really! There are some! If you live near wet lands, there is skunk cabbage, which heats its flower so well that the snow melts away from it. Witch Hazel is blooming in the woodlands and around suburban yards. Even spring bulbs will jump the gun during warm spells and start blooming.
So stop grunting around the house and get to work! This is a good time to be checking over equipment, ordering replacements, studying up on status of diseases and resistant strains of bees, and maybe ordering some new stock of bees and queens! Read another book on beekeeping and brush up on your knowledge. Garden catalogs are the only ones that get mailed out in January. I've sure received one from every supplier I ever heard of, and some new ones. As spring hits, the yard and garden work piles up and then you will be wondering why you didn't take care of these tasks last winter.
While you are making plans, the Eastern Apiculture Society's conference is during the first week in August in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. ( http://www.capecod.com/bcba/eas2001.html ) This is a great place to take a three-day short course on beekeeping, offered at different levels. Plan on attending!