Beekeeping In February

Excerpted from: Winterizing Bee Hives

Beehives in winter 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.

  Watch The Hive Entrance

Graphic of bee in winter 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.

  Egg Laying

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.

  Feeding Bees In February

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.

  Beekeeping Task Checklist

  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: 2023 Beekeeping Classes

  Learn More

Graphic of books tied with a ribbon

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

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