These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina or a similar climate where the bees are flying a least a few hours most days of the year. Hive checks this month are tied directly to outside temperatures. Do not disturb the brood chamber or break propolis seals around boxes unless absolutely necessary. A brief peek inside, looking downward through the frames, is okay on days the bees are flying. Even then, do not open the hive deeply or excessively during the winter months. Try to not be too disruptive in order to allow them to keep their house (brood box) in order for winter. Use of a stethoscope or an ear against the side of the hive will often tell you all is well inside.
1) Continue to assess stores by tilting your hives from the back to check for weight (hefting the hive). You may peek into the hive if the weather is warm and the bees are flying. Check honey supply and feed with a candy board, sugar bricks, fondant, or thick sugar syrup if below one-half super. Whatever you choose, the food must be placed close to the cluster or on top for them to access the food during cold weather. If you saved frames of honey you may add these (after thawing), placing them close to the cluster.
2) Long periods of temperatures below 50F will keep the bees inside and clustered. If you’d like to check on them place an ear against the side of the hive and give a knock to the side of the hive. You should hear a roar. An alternative method is to use a stethoscope which you can use to determine exactly where in the hive the cluster is located.
3) Continue to clean, repair, paint, and construct new equipment. Clean up and repair any dead-outs. Learn from your dead-outs.
4) Eagerly look for the start of Red Maple blooms by monitoring the sides of Interstates and roadways.
5) Colony population starts increasing as you continue feeding this month, especially if using artificial pollen. Population will rapidly accelerate when Red Maple blooms. Be prepared for a decrease in the amount of stores as the population expands and they start to feed more larvae.
6) Check for pollen stores and pollen coming in. If none, consider feeding pollen substitute.
7) Moisture control: Frequently check for excessive moisture on the underside of the telescoping cover. If wet, consider adding an empty box above with an absorbent material such as sawdust in a burlap bag or a quilt. Increasing ventilation will also lower moisture inside the hive.
8) If dwindling or queenless combine bees with another colony.
9) Our first Midlands reported swarm of 2018 was on February 13th. This year, consider building a nucleus hive or a portable hive for swarm captures. Build a swarm trap to capture your own swarms (and your neighbors).
10) Order package bees and queens for delivery mid to late March or as early as possible for your area.
11) Plan for changes you’re going to implement next season.
12) Call, visit, or write farmers or landowners where you’d like to place hives for out yards next spring.
13) Read a good beekeeping book. Mid-State Beekeepers Association is fortunate to have an excellent library and books available for checkout at meetings.
14) Register for a spring conference or other beekeeping educational opportunity.
15) Renew your association membership. Attend local meetings.
16) Scout trees for placement and prepare swarms traps. Construct swarm capture bucket.
17) Build a nuc box now to keep in your car or truck for community swarm captures next spring. Register with on-line swarm call lists.
18) ‘Tis the season to be grateful. Be thankful to have a local beekeeping association with hard working volunteers serving the membership and community. Thank a club leader or volunteer; offer to lend a hand.
The above are general guidelines for the average bee colony in the Midlands of South Carolina. We all have hives that may be outperforming the average. We also have colonies that underperform the average. Use your judgement in making changes suggested here. Beekeeping is an art as well as a science. Only you know the many, many particulars associated with your physical hives as well as the general health and population of your colonies.