Beekeeping In February
Excerpted from: Winterizing Bee Hives
February is when the bees start building momentum in the hive. Queen laying increases
significantly more than in January and the risk of starvation increases. More pollen is available
on trees, but the bees need warm days in order to harvest it. Bees are not collecting honey yet,
but many of the bees who will forage for the nectar in the spring and summer are now only eggs.
February is a slight extension of the events that occur in January. Days and nights are still
particularly cold, but there are more bursts of warm weather that will affect your bees. If Wisconsin
has a few warm days, which for the bees is above 55°, the forager bees will leave the hive looking
for pollen. Pollen is in high demand in February because the bees need the protein from the pollen
to feed their larva. They combine the fresh pollen with the residual capped honey from last year to
feed their bees.
The cold of February makes it extra hard on the bees. It’s best not to open the hive and go through
every frame when it’s cold. You can usually learn plenty by just taking a peek through the hole in
the inner cover.
If a major cold snap occurs and the bees have to ball together very tightly to keep warm, it
may leave the outer edges of the brood nest partially exposed to the cold. If the brood gets
too cold, it won’t survive and all the cold brood must be removed from the hive during the
next warm period by the bees. This is why the bees slowly expand their egg laying, so they
will have enough adult bees to keep the unhatched bees warm.
There is a lot you can tell from your hive by just watching the entrance. Activity significantly
increases at the entrance around 1-2 pm each day, so that is the best time to observe. Look for
bees bringing in pollen on their back legs, that is always a good sign. If you don’t see any
activity, it is a possibility the bees are dead.
While the amount of eggs being laid by the queen is increasing, it isn’t by too much compared
to January. The reason for this is the adult bees have to keep the capped and uncapped brood
warm, about 90° and above.
One of the most important aspects of winter survival of your hive is knowing how to feed your bees
in the winter. So many beekeepers lose their hives in the winter and they blame the cold. Cold
weather rarely is the cause of honey bees dying in the winter. They are more than able to make it
through harsh, northern winter weather.
The amount of stored honey needed for the winter varies depending upon geographical location and
climate. In colder locations, like Wisconsin, hives use up to 90 pounds of honey. This translates to a full
deep box of frames. If you find your bees do not have enough honey stored, you should consider
providing the colony with supplemental nutrition.
Take advantage of any days over 50°F to go check on your hive. You want to see bees
flying around and going to the bathroom. If you can’t be home when temps are the highest,
look for evidence that the bees were out—usually, poop scattered on top of or near the
front of the hive is a good sign.
The warmer it is, the more thorough investigation you can make. At around 60°F, you can
open the hive briefly to assess the remaining honey stores and clear out the dead bodies
that accumulate over the winter
Condense honey stores into one area, and, if they’re out of honey but still alive, begin
feeding. We recommend a 1:1 water to sugar ratio in spring since the bees will be using
it for immediate energy and not storing it. Don’t fill the jar all the way, as the solution
could still freeze. Check on it whenever temperatures are high enough to make sure the
holes aren’t clogged.
If your bees didn’t survive winter, we offer our condolences. It’s hard to lose a colony.
Take comfort in the fact that the work of your deceased colony will give your new colony
a stronger start
If your colony didn’t survive, now’s the time to put down a deposit on new bees so you
can get an early start in spring
February is a time when beekeeping clubs host beginner courses. It’s a good idea to brush
up on the basics of beekeeping, so consider attending one, even if you have had bees for
a year. See the current list of Wisconsin-based and on-line courses:
2022 Beekeeping Classes
Winter is a great time to increase your bee knowledge. Learn the difference in wasps and bees
and be able to identify a few of the main flying insects.
Here are a few books that might help to pass the winter nights!
Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson
Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley
Dancing With Bees: A Journey Back to Nature by Brigit Strawbridge Howard
Our Native Bees by Paige Embry
Take this quick quiz and see how much you know about honey bee anatomy. Honey Bees play an
important role in pollination. Give the quiz a try!
Ever wondered where bees go in the winter? Take a look at the winter survival strategies
of native bumblebees, and native solitary bees.
This guide features regional native plants for the Great Lakes that are highly
attractive to native bees and honey bees.