January chills (and doubts)

By | January 13, 2013

I was eager on returning from holiday to check on my hive.
Winter is an anxious time for a new beekeeper, as not much colony management can happen.
It’s time to trust that your preparation for winter was thorough, that the colony is healthy, and has enough food to last the cold months.

It’s not advised to open the hive during winter for a full inspection, as this lets heat escape and introduces cold and wet.
However, you can check other symptoms to gauge the colony’s progress.

External visual check of the hive

A visual check of my hive thankfully showed no external damage;
- no marauding bears, sticky beak wood peckers, or mice have tried to muscle their way in.

Underneath the hive

Looking underneath the hive as I have an open mesh floor, I noticed a few dead bees but not too many, which is to be expected.
Also, some wax shavings littered underneath the hive, which indicates the bees are opening the honey cell wax capping to eat the honey stores.
Both good signs.

The hive entrance

Peeking in the hive entrance, I was pleased to find it clear and open. Sometimes dead bees can block the door way. Gruesome!
Also, I noticed a bit of gentle bee movement inside, so at least I know there are a few alive in there.
These bees are also at the bottom of the middle frames (as the only place I could really see).
I’d like to assume that the spherically clustered colony, centred in the middle of the hive, is therefore large enough to reach the bottom of the frames.
A large healthy colony is a good thing, to combat the natural attrition of the population over winter.

Hefting the hive

Hefting the hive, or lifting one side to gauge its weight, can give you a rough indication of how many bees and how much honey is inside.
The colony should go into winter with about 20 kilos of honey, and around 10,000 bees.
A hive that is too light indicates a small population, and/or little honey store.
Include the hive and frame weight themselves and you’d expect the hive to weigh around 35 kilos.
I was pleased to feel that my hive was still quite heavy, and relatively difficult to heft.

..and a dodgy conclusion?

I’d like to assume from the low numbers of dead bees on the ground, the weight of the hive, the wax shavings underneath, and activity while peeping in through the entrance, that I’ve still got a healthy hive with plenty of food.
Alternatively, a wax shaving, live bee and honey eating creature weighing about 30 kilos has ghosted its way inside.

During this visit I’ve also placed a monitoring tray at the bottom of the hive, to check what is falling out of the hive, and where.
I’ll be checking if any varroa is falling out, and trying to roughly gauge varroa levels based on a frequency drop per day.
It will also let me know over a short period, which frames the bees are eating honey from.
You’d expect them to start near the middle, close to the main bee cluster, and make their way to the outer frames.
Once they finish the outer frames, you’d have to assume they’d be running out of food.

Snow is forecast for next week (and beyond?)
I’m feeling pretty confident that the colony is doing well, and will see through to spring.
I’ll be interested to see what pattern the colony leaves on the monitoring tray, and on the next warmish clear day Ill be opening the hive to take a peek inside, just in case.

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