As always, all beekeeping is local. Here’s my beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of December:
If you thought the beekeeping season was over you would be incorrect. The successful beekeeper continues his/her efforts over the winter to have success in the coming 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. On a warm day with temperatures in the 60’s you may briefly remove the inner cover and view down between the frames. 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) Clean, paint, repair equipment, assemble new equipment, build more hive stands, make some of those time saver gadgets, and replace any bad equipment. Remember, when spring arrives you will be very busy and won’t have as much time to construct needed hive bodies, build frames, wire (or wax) foundation, or build stands.
2) Check for excessive moisture in the hive. Lift the cover and note for wetness or mold indicating excess moisture. As needed, ventilate hives with a 1/16th inch crack at the front of the inner cover to prevent condensation and mold. Alternatively, many beekeepers maintain an upper entrance in their inner cover. Other methods of controlling excess humidity in the hive is by using a quilt box above the inner cover or using insulated outer covers. Typically we do not wrap our hives in the Midlands as our winters are not harsh. Remember, the bees can keep themselves warm if they have enough bees and enough food stores. It’s the moisture we are focused on preventing.
3) During winter, it is important to tilt the entire hive forward slightly with a shim placed under the hive in the back. This is especially true for those hives with solid bottom boards. A driving rain can pool water inside the hive and, coupled with lower temperatures and winter debris on the floor, will chill the bees. To a lesser extent we do this to allow condensation that forms above the cluster to run forward and down the front of the inside of the hive, preventing it from dripping on the bees. While this helps reduce condensation from above, it should not be the sole method of preventing overhead moisture (see # 2 above).
4) Continue to assess stores. Continue to heft the back of your hives to check for weight. (Not having to open the hives in the cold weather is why you learned this method earlier in the year to assess food stores.)
5) If needed, feed using a low moisture method such as a candy board or fondant. Another method of winter feeding that also reduces moisture in the hive is the Mountain Camp method.
6) Order packages, nucleus hives, and queens for delivery mid to late March or as early as possible for your area.
7) Review and evaluate how well your bee colonies performed this year and make decisions on how to improve your operation, particularly regarding disease management and pest control such as Varroa mites, small hive beetles, and wax moths. Document your findings in your beekeeping journal.
8) Plan now for changes you’re going to implement next season. Will you explore making splits, raising queens, increasing your honey yield, producing nucleus hives, or pollinating crops for income? Set goals now and prepare for next year’s success.
9) Call, visit, or write farmers or landowners where you’d like to place hives for out yards next spring. Use Google Maps to scout likely locations.
10) Renew your membership in your local Beekeepers Association. Attend local club meetings. Register for your state’s Spring Beekeepers conference.
11) Scout trees and other locations for bait hive placement and prepare swarms traps (bait hives). Read Bait Hives and Swarm Traps by McCartney Taylor, available for checkout from the Mid-State Beekeepers library.
12) Construct a swarm capture bucket for those spring swarm calls that inevitably come during swarm season.
13) Build a nucleus hive now to keep in your car or truck for community swarm captures next spring. These small hives are also very handy to have on hand when you see swarm cells in your own hives and need to move a queen or queen cells to capitalize on, or survive, an unexpected reproductive event.
14) Order or ask Santa for a copy of that beekeeping book you’ve been wanting to read. Read some every day.
15) If, for some reason you have not yet treated for Varroa, this time of year presents the Midlands with as close to a broodless period as we get. A cheap, economical, quick and easy, method of Varroa treatment during this broodless period is the oxalic acid dribble. Read about how it’s performed here: Once a Year Opportunity to Save on Varroa Treatment.
16) December is an excellent month for selling honey. Farmer’s markets, holiday festivals, and other events are great places to sell your golden treasure.
17) Celebrate Lorenzo Langstroth’s birthday on December 25.
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.