beekeepers miscellaneous musings

What beekeepers do in winter

First and foremost, we miss our bees. That must sound silly to a non-beekeeper, but the rest of you know. It’s lonely out there, not having to duck and run, not sporting red welts on your hands. It’s eerily quiet. And like returning home from summer camp, the separation anxiety can kill you.

I worry about my bees. Do they have enough to eat? Are they warm? Do they have sufficient books and board games to keep them occupied? Will I ever see them again?

Cooking with honey whenever I can

But for direct physical contact with stinging insects, I’m just as bee busy in winter as in summer. On cold rainy nights, bee reading beckons. A pile of books, like that tower in Pisa, tilts from my desk. Columns of reading material rise stalagmite-like from the carpet. Bits and bytes clog up my Kindle. I think about reading more than I actually do it, but it is pleasurable all the same. Like a new cookbook, a new bee book is more about anticipation than substance.

All of which reminds me of the plethora of recipes I want to try. Honey cakes and honey muffins, honey jams and honey mustards. And while I’m still in the kitchen there is wax to melt, candles to mold, and soap to wrap into gifts.

Bee-pollinated peach pie

When I don’t feel like cooking or melting, I scan the seed catalogs for bee friendly plants, for flowers with blue pollen, for blooms with scads of nectar, and petals that look great in bee portraits. I imagine intricate bee gardens where something is always in bloom. In my mind’s eye I see honey bees, mason bees, and bumble bees vying for the sweetest meal. I see cheerful blossoms bending under their weight, happy to donate their burden of nectar.

Winter is the time when I draw sketches of new equipment or variations on the old. I dream up new ways of feeding, of catching swarms, of raising queens. I build supers, wire frames, and paint and repair whatever equipment is not in the field. I peruse the bee catalogs while jotting down lists and ideas for the year ahead. I think about the perfect bee suit, about a veil that doesn’t collapse against my face, a suit with pockets aplenty for hive tools, notebooks, cameras, voice recorders, dog treats, and duct tape.

A dusting of snow

The best part is preparing for the biggest honey crop ever. That crop is on its way. It’s coming next year. Always next year. I think about designing a new label for my boxes of comb honey—in fact, designing a whole new box. I think about inventing a new candy called a HoneyBeeSuiteSweet. Or a HoneyBeeSuite2. I discover, much to my horror, that I’ve spelled “trophallaxis” wrong in no fewer than six posts—for all the world to smirk over.

And while all this is going on, the calendar flips by. There are all those holidays to plan for and, before you know it, it’s time for adding candy boards, mixing up pollen patties, and checking on the queens. Suddenly the buds start to swell on those bigleaf maples and a five-eyed furry creature is peeking up at you from the safety of her hive. Her antennae sample the air. She doesn’t quite take off, but you can see her thinking about it. You relax. Life begins anew.


A maple in winter

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  • What is amazing is that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. This will be my first winter with my bees and worry has already set in. I have so many plans for the off-season like you have stated. But what was best about your article was it was more like a short story. I was mentally gone from reality and totally into my own off-season. I loved it. The bigleaf maple picture is great. I love the deep blue in the background. Great article. I’m looking forward to the off-season now.

  • Lovely writing, Rusty, and a very pretty peach pie. My vegetable canning is done, the wood pile has been replenished, spring bulbs have been planted, and my single hive is ready for winter…or is it? Like Jason, this will be my first winter with a hive, and I, too, am worried about my bees — not only about what I have or haven’t done for them, but about our winter weather here in Colorado, which is insanely erratic. Your post on overwintering hives helped me enormously, so I have hope my bees will survive.

  • Looking at your hives has added some inspiration to my metal work. I cannot/will not be satisfied with flat covers, no longer with pitched copper commercial. The next brood will fly out from under something “special”. I never know where inspiration will come from . . . The pie looks inspiring as well, but beyond my skill set. Now I need to read your over winter bit, hope I’m ready.

  • it’s comforting to know there are other people out there like me. I always feel so different than all my friends. Now, off to make some mead and read the ABC of Bee Culture…..

  • Hi bee master, I am glad to see this wonderful page !!!

    I hope that this page will make me a good beekeeper because I have paid some beekeeper for every inspection that they made to my hives.
    And because of the expensive payment and because I have harvest NO honey in 2012 and 2013, I have decided to be a beekeeper. I live near a mountain and I have a garden full of flowers !!!

    My question is : Is it possible that in the first year I harvest 46 KG of honey and now I will never harvest honey? OR is it possible that this beekeeper has made a bad job??

    Thank you Very much and sorry about my bad English.

    With love from Kosovo.

    • Dardan,

      I fixed your English a little bit, but it is very good.

      It is impossible to tell at this point whether the beekeeper did a good job or not. It is very possible for bees to be highly productive some years, and not productive at all in other years, but that doesn’t mean you will never have honey again.

      Still, you are probably better off becoming a beekeeper yourself, and then you can make your own management decisions and know that you did your best regardless of the honey yield.

  • I miss my bees. When I need a fix, I put my ear up to the side of the hives and listen. When I want to REALLY hear them I rap on the side…I love the uptick in the buzzing. The next best thing is watching honey bee videos…