The shortest day has gone, but it is pretty certain that there will be more cold and wet weather to come.
Bees may be seen on the wing in January. A bright sunny day will bring them out on cleansing flights. During the winter, bees are able to hold waste product from eating in an expanding rectum, but when the opportunity arises they will fly out to defecate.
Check the hives occasionally even if you do not open them.
Make sure that they are still upright, stock can knock them over, and that the mouse guards have not moved. In windy areas put a brick or rock on the roof to hold it down.
If the hives are near trees, check that nothing has fallen, or is about to fall, on them.
There are cases of woodpecker damage to hives. It seems that the fairly common Green Woodpecker, picus viridis, is the culprit. It is learned behaviour, a bit like blue tits when we had milk bottles on the doorstep, and if it happens, covering the hive with chicken wire or heavy duty plastic sheet can stop it, but leave the entrance clear!
With no, or very little, brood now is the time to apply oxalic acid as a varroa treatment. This is an effective treatment and is achieved by trickling the liquid between the frames. Oxalic acid is available pre-mixed and comes with instructions, but read up on the subject first.
Bees can tolerate cold, but they cannot tolerate damp; good ventilation is essential to help the bees survive.
Make sure that the entrance to the hive has not become blocked with leaves or debris or even snow. If you want more air to circulate throughout the hive, put a matchstick under each corner of the crown-board; this will improve ventilation without creating large gaps.
Have the bees got enough food?
Always a vexed question. How long is a piece of string?
If you are not sure, feed
Feed only candy at this time of year. Most crown-boards have a feeding hole in the top and it is easy to place candy over the hole and let the bees help themselves.
Candy is available commercially, but Paul Mann always brings some, in conveniently recyclable containers, to the winter meetings. If Association members need candy before the meeting, please get in touch with Paul Mann beforehand.
Check over all equipment; repair and tidy up any damage to kit not in use; sterilise hive tools and put your bee garments through the washing machine.
If you received book tokens for Christmas, it is a good time to check your local bookshop or the web for bee books. Ted Hooperʼs “Guide to Bees and Honey” is reckoned to be the best all round bee book that there is on the market, but the range of publications is huge, so browse and enjoy.