As winter temperatures start to become the norm in many parts of the country, your visits to your beehive will be less frequent. Chilly trips to check on your bees will no longer involve opening up the hive to investigate their activities. Instead, your focus will shift to watching for signs of their survival and safety.
Today, we’re covering the steps you should take during cold-weather inspections.
Your first action for a cold-weather inspection should be checking out the weather. If the relative temperature around the hive is at least 50℉, you are safe to open it up and scope out your ladies. However, if it’s any colder than that, you will need to limit your visit to an external-only inspection.
Once temperatures hit 40℉, it’s time to wrap your top bar hive in the BeeRito Wrap. Did you already wrap your hive? You’re ahead of the game! The BeeRito, which comes with our Beepods System Winterizing Kit, will protect your bees from icy winds and reflect sunlight. It helps your bees to maintain temperatures inside the hive better. Just make sure your Beepods vent boards are closed, and be aware of the nightly low temperatures. Significant drops can cause severe damage to your colony.
If weather conditions aren’t too cold, and you’re able to open up your hive, assess your bees’ honey stores and see what they’ve whipped up for winter. If their supplies are dwindling, now is the time to feed your bees (if you choose to) to help them survive the next few months.
If you’ve been saving your bees’ honey from earlier this season, give it back to them. Honey bee tea is an option to consider if you think your bees will require a nutritional boost to make it until spring. If you’re debating what to feed your bees and how, Caitlin shared everything you need to know about cold-weather feeding in her recent blog.
When winter temperatures are too chilly for opening your hive up, you’ll need to settle for an external inspection to see how your bees are faring in the cold. You can tell a lot about how things are going inside by observing a few critical points outside the hive.
For starters, you can use temperature checking software to do an external scan of the hive and check the cluster temperature. If the cluster temperature is low, it can be a sign that something’s amiss.
Here are other ways you can check on your bees without opening the hive.
While you shouldn’t open up your hive in cold weather, if you have a Beepods Beekeeping Complete System, you can take a quick look to see how the cluster is doing. It’s okay to remove the BeeRito Wrap and look through your Beepod’s window. Note whether the cluster is moving across the hive horizontally so that they always have honey bars close by before spring comes.
Just do it fast. If, as you briefly observe the cluster, you notice it start to break apart, stop what you’re doing. Wrap your hive up and leave your bees alone. A cluster coming undone is a sign you disturbed the bees. This causes them to go on the defensive, causing cold to enter the hive, which can kill the bees.
Yup, you read that right. You’re on a poo-finding mission. On warmer winter days where temperatures get up to 55℉, your bees will take a quick cleansing flight. They make a fast trip out of the hive to do their “business,” then head back inside to cluster and warm up with their colony. Evidence of cleansing flights, or bee poop, around the hive indicates that your bees are alive and well inside.
You might wonder, “What does bee poop look like?” Bee poop is small yellow specks (reflecting the color of their pollen-heavy diet) that you’ll find on the ground on and around your hive. Bee poop easily washes away with precipitation and wind, so if you see it on your hive, you know your bees have recently left it there.
During this time of year, you might notice evidence that little heat-seeking and sugar-hungry creatures have checked out the hive or tried to get inside. Look for scratch marks around the hive or other proof of little claws or teeth. See if there are animal droppings nearby. If it appears that a small and furry heathen has successfully broken into the hive already, it may be too late to do anything about it.
Your best course of action is to protect your bees from intruders proactively. The Mouse Guards in the Beepods’ Winterizing System Kit will prevent animals from getting into your hive entrances. So, it’s good to make sure those are in place, if possible.
Whether temperatures permit you to open up your hive or not, be sure to track all of your hive data and observations. If you’re a member of Beepods Lab, log in and make a note of what you see during your visit to your hive using our Healthy HiveTM Management Software. And if you’re not a Beepods Lab member, you can still write down what your bees are up to with our Beepods Inspection Kit.
Cold-weather inspections aren’t the up-close-and-personal experience with your bees you’ve come to love, but they still provide valuable insights into your bees’ health and safety. Whether it’s warm enough for you to open up your hive or so cold that your inspection is limited to external observation, you’re guaranteed to gather useful information during winter visits to your hive.