honey bee management

January in the apiary

The winter solstice is past us now, and here in the northern hemisphere the amount of sunlight per day is gradually increasing. Little by little, your queen bee responds to this change by increasing the number of eggs she lays. Even though the days are cold and very short by summer standards, your colony is beginning to stir. Here are some things to consider in January:[list icon=”plus”]

  • If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check your hives for sufficient food supplies. Just when the colony becomes a bit more active—and starts to raise more young—is just when food supplies may begin to run short. If your bees seem to be congregating on the top bars, it may mean they have eaten their way up through the brood nest and through the honey frames and are now looking for more food. Some colonies don’t move laterally with ease, so it is a good idea to move full honey frames from the outside edges of the brood box to a position near the cluster.
  • In addition to rearranging the frames, you may want to add a candy board, hard candy cakes, fondant, or dry sugar above the cluster.
  • Since pollen is required to raise the brood, you may consider adding pollen substitute to the candy or you can provide pollen patties alongside the candy. Try pressing the patties between layers of wax paper, or placing them inside ziplock bags with slits, to keep the pollen from drying out and becoming hard.
  • Dead bees have been building up all winter. Make sure the entrance is not restricted by a pile of bodies. Insert a stick or hive tool in the entrance and sweep out the dead ones.
  • If necessary, clear snow, wet leaves, or other debris from the hive entrance to maintain good ventilation.
  • Assess your requirements for queens and packages, if any. If you haven’t already ordered for spring, do it now.
  • Look through your honey supers to see if you need to buy or build any equipment before the spring nectar flow. Honey season may seem like a long way off, but by the time all your equipment is prepared, spring will be right around the corner. You may also want to order jars, lids, labels, or comb boxes for the coming year.
  • Remember that January is seed catalog month. If you are thinking of planting for your bees or for native pollinators, now is the time to order seeds. On a cold evening, bundle up next to the fireplace with a pile of seed catalogs, a pad and pencil, and your favorite beverage.
  • If you’ve got lots of space, check out the nursery catalogs for flowering trees and shrubs as well.
  • While you are ordering stuff, don’t forget the yellowjacket lures and/or butterfly net. The more yellowjacket queens you capture in the early spring, the better off you will be later in the year. This really works.
  • Plan to try a new aspect of beekeeping this year, such as queen rearing, selling nucs, or making candles. Once you decide on a project, start reading everything you can. You can learn an amazing amount in a few short weeks.
  • If this will be your first beekeeping year, give special consideration to hive placement. Remember, you have to balance what is best for your bees with what will work with your neighbors. This may not seem important now, but it can become a major issue in your beekeeping life. In a nutshell, your bees will generally be far more accommodating (and forgiving) than your neighbors. Keep that in mind.
[/list] Rusty


  • As I was watching the sun set tonight, I wondered about how the bees know when daylight gets longer. It seems to me that it would be easier for them to observe changes in polarization as the sun starts to move higher in the sky, rather than minor changes of a minute or two more light. We know they use polarization as a navigation aid. Do you know if anyone has done research on the timing mechanisms?

    I look forward to seeing my bees again. We had a cold snap the past week (~25F), and I’ve been listening to their hum by putting my ear next to the hive entrance.

    • Pat,

      This is a really good question. I have searched and searched for an answer, but haven’t found any reasonable explanation. Many articles refer to the bee’s sensitivity to day length without any further explanation (just like I did.) I think most is known about the phenomenon as it relates to birds and plants. Birds can be induced to migrate at the wrong time of year by messing with the light they receive, and most farmers know you can get hens to lay longer (and delay molt) if you prevent the daylight hours from shortening. Plants, of course, are very sensitive to daylight hours because it influences their internal chemistry. But bees? I will keep looking for an answer.

  • Rusty,
    When you say to check your honey supplies, is it OK to go into your hives when it’s cold and they are in their cluster? Won’t that chill the bees?

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