In winter, there isn't much a beekeeper can do to help the bees other than watch your hive entrances, keep them clear of snow, inspect the bottom board for activity in the hive and be sure the hives are protected from the wind! If you have a window in a top bar hive, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the winter cluster (the huddle of bees in a ball). It's a good time to catch up on reading bee journals, repair and replace old equipment and render wax for candles, salves and balms.
By the end of January, the days are getting longer and the queen will start laying more eggs, so we need to be sure the bees have enough honey stores to feed all the young. It's always good to lift the corner of your hive to judge the remaining honey stores. Beekeepers need to leave at least 70 to 90 lbs of honey by the time fall comes around; this honey is fuel for warmth for the wintering bees. Honeybee workers use their strong flight muscles (wings disengaged) to shiver to keep the center of the cluster as warm as 95 degrees celsius, and 80 if there's no brood. Late winter and early spring are critical times for the bees and many Colorado hives die from chill and starvation at this time. If honey stores are low and the day is warm, I can feed the bees some honeycomb from a productive hive that had extra, or make bee candy (aka fondant), or in a pinch, I'll spread sugar crystals beneath the cluster in a top bar hive or inside the inner cover in a Langstroth hive.
On another note, winter is the time I craft with beeswax, so I'd like to share a favorite hand salve recipe, which can also be used as lip balm:
Hand Salve/Lip Balm
6 oz. almond oil
4 oz. olive oil
1 tsp. vitamin E (for preservative and extra nourishment)
40 drops essential oil (rose-scented geranium or lavender are my favorites)
In a double boiler, warm beeswax, add oils, and warm just until the beeswax is melted. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool for a minute or two before adding the essential oil. Pour into sealed jars or tins and use within 6-12 months. Makes 18 one ounce containers.
Interested in beekeeping? Come and discover everything you need to know at Tracy Bellehumeur's class, Beekeeping Basics, on Saturday, February 7 from 2-5 p.m. at the Gardens. This introductory class is great for people thinking about starting a beehive. Tracy will teach about how honeybees live, different hive designs and how to get started as a beekeeper. A handout with suggested reading, supportive resources and local beekeeping groups is provided. Register online or call 720-865-3580.
GUEST BLOGGER: TRACY BELLEHUMEUR
Tracy has been raising her own bees for six years using organic methods. She is an avid gardener, crafter, mother and engineer.