County Wexford Beekeepers' Association
February in the Apiary
by Joe Redmond
Feeding the Bees
By far the most important thing to do in February, or in any month in the winter, is to check for food. This is because bees are not like other creatures, they don't carry any reserves of fat on them. If bees run out of food today, chances are within two days they'll be dead. They won't die one by one by one, the whole lot of them will die at the same time. It's an awful sight to see
You open up your hive and there's all these bees head first in the cells and they're after dying and there's no food around them.
So it's important to check for food. Hives will probably be okay. A hive with eleven frames of store and if you've fed them enough in autumn, you probably won't have to do anything with them till March or April
The Importance of Feeding Nucs
But a nuc has only five or six frames, so it won't have enough room for stores. There's a limit to how much you can feed a nuc in the autumn as there's a limit to what they can store for the winter. So it's ultra important to check for stores in nucs, especially as they're quite vulnerable to starvation at this time of year.
Now you don't like opening them at this time of the year, but don't take out any frames or anything. Just take the roof off, put on an eke and then put the fondant directly on top of where most of the bees are. Give them a little bit of smoke to drive them down so you don't crush them when you put the fondant down. Cut a little circle in the plastic bag that the fondant is in and the bees will be able to climb up to get at it. If there's a good few bees in the nuc they'll have the fondant gone out of it pretty quick.
When the weather is cold, you should only give them fondant. This is because fondant is in a state that they can use immediately.
If you give them sugar syrup, it has to be inverted, that means they can't take that in and use it straightaway. They have to get moisture out of it and add enzymes to it and invert it before they can use it. If you have cold nights and frosty weather, they probably won't touch the syrup. It's too much work for them. When it's 13 or 14 degrees they're fine with it, but not when it's still cold.
Checking for Damp
Another thing you could be doing at this time of year is check for dampness. When you take the roof off at this time of the year, check for leaks. Dampness is very detrimental to bees. They won't thrive in a damp hive and you'll get mildews and mould, so it's important to have them dry. If you have a strong colony of bees, the cold will never kill them, they'll manage that nicely, but dampness will, so check for damp.
Other February Jobs
Also, February would be a great time to renew the floors, especially if you have solid timber floors. Have a couple of newer floors prepared. Just lift the hive of bees off their floor and set them down on a new floor. Take the old floor away and scrape it clean. Scrape off wax and propolis and anything that can be scraped off it. Run a flame over it as well to clean it, to sterilise it. Take your time with this. The timber should start to scorch. Don't forget to do underneath the floor as well, because bees travel there as well
But, February is not a busy month at all for a beekeeper. By far and away the most important thing is food. You could lose a hive of bees to starvation in a matter of three or four days.