What should I be doing right now?
November and December
November and December are two months to enjoy the lack of bee work. That being said, I will still make you think that there is a lot to do by what I write below:
• For us in the Northwest, excessive moisture in our hives is one of our biggest concerns. Make sure lids are watertight, that hives are tilted so water drains out and away, and that there is sufficient ventilation. This is even more important in January when brood rearing and metabolism increase hive moisture.
• At this time the bees are clustered together in dormancy, except for those periodic warm spells that allow the bees to break their cluster, move closer to stored honey, and make those all important cleansing (defecating) flights.
• These periodic warm spells afford the opportunity to visually assess the health of our hives and to do emergency manipulations, if necessary. As a rule, never open a hive during the winter unless there is a good reason and the temperature is at least 45°F. Work around the cluster rather than through the tightly formed bees.
• Take note of the colonies that are flying little or not at all during these periodic warm spells. Do a cursory check for weight (lift the hive to assess) and to determine whether or not the hive is alive (place your ear against the wall, thump the hive with your hand, and listen for the buzz).
• For hives low on stores, feed fondant or frames of honey, or possibly retire the colony. Do not feed syrup at this time. Bees cannot remove the extra moisture, and too much water in the bees diet in conjunction with confinement leads to dysentery.
• An ideal way to feed fondant is to use lids with rims and to pour the fondant directly into the void. These lids can have up to 5 pounds of feed and last 2-3 weeks.
• Drivert has been discussed as an alternative to regular fondant (or dry sugar) on the OSBA Message Board. Drivert has existed for at least 30 years as a potential alternative for emergency feed. This feed is composed of 92% finely pulverized sucrose along with 8% invert sugar. According to C&H, drivert is "a dry fondant sugar used in icings and pan-coated confections."
• For dead-outs, determine why the hive succumbed (usually queenlessness) and make sure frames are free of scale from American foulbrood. Shake out the dead bees. Then, clean and return the equipment to storage.
• Check your apiary occasionally -- especially after a wind storm. Make sure that the lids are secure and verify that animals (e.g., mice, bears, and humans) have not been bothering (e.g., chewing, eating, or vandalizing) the hives.
• Consider placing your order for queens now. Demand for queens has increased during the last few years.
• Give honey and/or candles to family, friends, farmers, and growers for the season and holidays.
The above information was excerpted from the Oregon State Beekeepers Association webpage, found at: http://www.orsba.org/htdocs/home.php (June 2, 2012). The Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club extends a special thanks to Todd Balsiger, Forest Grove, OR for permission to post this information.
For previous or future monthly beekeeping tips, please download the file below:
Washington State University Apiary Program
WSU offers a couple workshops throughout the year. Please check their website for more information: