Winter is finally here...so now what? After months of activity caring for your bees, it's finally time to take a deep breath and wait for spring. If you are like me, waiting is the hardest part! Every cold rainy night, or cold front, I wonder what's going on with my bees, when can I check on them, is it too cold to take a look, etc. Here are some answers to common winter inspection questions:
1. How often should I inspect? I recommend some form of inspection 2 times per month, November-January. For November you should be adding a pollen patty each inspection, and doing any last minute feeding. One inspection in December and January can simply be to lift up on the hive and peek under the lid to ensure proper food stores; then the other inspection can be to quickly look inside the hive.
2. When should I inspect? Bees do a decent job of keeping their hive warm, and recovering after the hive has been opened. If you are simply checking food stores, and not breaking the boxes apart or lifting frames, it can be done anytime. If you are lifting frames out or breaking the boxes apart, I recommend around noon on a sunny day. This will give the bees plenty of time to form their cluster before it's cold again at night. As far as temperatures, I've inspected plenty of hives around 35-40 degrees if it's sunny, and the inspection only takes a few minutes. If you want to pull all the frames out one at a time, and do an inspection that lasts several minutes, it needs to be flying weather, so 50s and sunny. But, to just break the boxes apart to see the cluster side, and pull a frame or two out, it can be quite cold and not damage the hive.
3. What should I be looking for? Typically winter inspections are gauging syrup/honey stores. If your hive has less than 30lbs in their second box, you can feed. Check out how to tell how much honey is stored here! It will take the bees several days to drink syrup in the winter. During the winter, that's about all you can do. Outside the hive, make sure the lids are on securely, water isn't pooling on the bottom board, and your wind blocks are in place. If you do have a bright sunny day, and want to pull a few frames out, you should see the queen beginning to lay eggs early to mid January. A pollen patty or two starting in early January will help jump start that process.