December in the apiary
Beginning in November your bees snuggle up for the hardest part of winter. Days are short and cold; nights are long and colder. With little brood to care for and nowhere to go, the bees are content to maintain a tight cluster and keep warm. On exceptionally mild days you may see a few cleansing flights or some telltale spots on the snow, otherwise you will notice nothing.
Although there is little beekeeping to do in December, you should check your hives after storms to assure that the covers are still in place and insulation has not blown away. Also, to maintain good ventilation you should check to see that hive entrances are not blocked with snow or ice.
The winter solstice marks a change for the bees. Soon after the solstice, as the days begin to get longer, the queen will start to lay more eggs. As the amount of brood increases, more food is consumed and more energy is spent in keeping the nest warm.
I use the winter solstice as a reminder to do several important things:
- On the first warmish day after the solstice, I peek under the lid. If the cluster is at or near the top of the highest brood box, I add hard candy with pollen substitute as a feeding supplement.
- I estimate my need for queens, packages, and/or nucs for the following spring. The sooner you can order these the better. Some places sell out or wait-list by the end of January.
- I make a supply of pollen patties or pollen slurry and freeze, ready to use.
- I make a supply of wintergreen grease patties and freeze these as well.
- I do an equipment inventory and order anything I will need in spring.
Except for those few chores, you can use December to catch up on your bee reading, make beeswax candles, and experiment with all those honey recipes you’ve collected throughout the year.