Feb. 2, 2023

Bee Management on Warm(ish) Winter Days (111)

Bee Management on Warm(ish) Winter Days (111)

It’s going to be 50 degrees tomorrow. Kim and Jim are going to have to check their bees for the first time this very early spring. So what do they do, how do they examine a colony this time of year way up north? The beekeepers in the warmer parts of...

It’s going to be 50 degrees tomorrow. Kim and Jim are going to have to check their bees for the first time this very early spring. So what do they do, how do they examine a colony this time of year way up north?

The beekeepers in the warmer parts of the country are already adding supers, there’s pollen coming in and the year has begun, but for those of us up north, there’s still a month of winter left. But this 50 degree day is a bonus and we can get in early, check for food, see if the bees are close to food, clean off the bottom board and determine if the weak colonies can be saved.

It’s going to be 50 degrees tomorrow. Time to get to work.

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 111 – Bee Management on Warm(ish) Winter Days

Kim Flottum: Jim, let's listen to the weather today. The guy up in Cleveland says it's going to be 50 degrees tomorrow. We got to be doing something with bees.

Jim Tew: First of all, I have not heard that. I take that as good news. We’ve got to be doing something with bees. There are people in the country already in the warm places that have been doing things with bees already. They've got pollen coming in even if it looks like that even though winter's still here, the world's waking up.

Kim: A friend of mine sent me pictures of his bees visiting Maple blossoms yesterday. There are a bunch of people that are way ahead of us, but you and I, it's a warm winter, but it's still winter out there and snow is a likelihood and cold weather's a likelihood. What are we going to be doing tomorrow?

[background music]

Jim: There's busy work, things that need to be done, could be done, should be done. Let's talk about it for a while.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: Today on Honeybee Obscura, we're going to be talking about one of the first warm days us Northern folks have seen this spring.

Jim: That should be enjoyable.

Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a longtimer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Kim: It's going to be 50. I'm going to wear a bee suit, but I don't have to wear a coat on throughout the inspection.

Jim: You're optimistic. You think you're going to need a bee suit? Why? Do you find dead colonies to be particularly aggressive or what?


Kim: Let's hope no.

Jim: No, I hope you have some alive, I had them alive a few weeks ago. I think they're still okay.

Kim: I guess the first thing I'll do when I go out there is stand and watch and see if anybody's flying.

Jim: I agree completely. The first thing you do because those are the ones that's going to get the bulk of your attention.

Kim: I’ve got three out there and I go take a look and I see one of them is flying and there's bees sitting on the landing board of another one. I don't know if they're coming out from that colony or if there's robbers going in from the colony – one that is flying and I got one with no action at all. Given that scenario, what's the first thing you'd do?

Jim: I want to put my attention on those that I can decide quickly are alive. This is not advice, Kim. This is just me on that rare warm day here in Northeast Ohio where you can actually do something with bees. I want to put my attention on those that are alive. I do simple things. Is the entrance reduced opening still accessible for bees coming and going? Do I need to pull out the dead bees away from the entrance so that they have good, clear flight, that kind of thing? They still have some weight about them? Even though it's really subjective and I've had beekeepers attack me for it, I'd probably - while I'm pulling out those dead bees - heft that colony to see if it still has good weight about it.

Kim: You just do a quick heft.

Jim: I don't have scales of any kind. Maybe this year, Kim, I can do some of those modern things where you just use your phone to tell how much weight gain your colony has taken or lost, but I don't have that yet. I still do the old-fashioned 1955 method. Is it heavy or not?

Kim: I think you're right there except I always go the opposite direction. I want to make sure that the one I think is dead so that if the one that I know is alive needs some help, there may be some resources I can pull out of that dead colony right now.

Jim: I don't disagree with you on that, believe it or not because that's going to be the next thing I'm going to do. If I have an amazing moment and this colony is light and it's alive, then if I don't have honey on some of those dead outs, then I've got to go to this emergency desperate, late winter/early spring feeding process. That always has mixed results, but it's something, and sometimes it helps. I just do it the other way, but that is my second thing.

Kim: I like your idea of making sure the entrance is clean because there could be a bursting colony in there and then they can't get out. If you open the door by getting rid of whatever's blocking it, suddenly you've got two live colonies out there instead of one. That's a good idea.

Jim: Kim, I didn't mean to go down this path, but I've stumbled into something. I've written an article for the American Bee Journal and I told them that when you put that old-fashioned wooden entrance reducer in, that notch should be turned upward, not downward. I've gotten four letters asking why. In the article I've just written, I told them why. Here goes.  When you take that wooden strip and you turn that notch down and then you have maybe a significant bee die off, starving, disease, Varroa- infected or whatever and those bees drop to the bottom board in significant numbers, it's not impossible to block that entrance.

The old guys said if you turn that notch upward, then you've got about three eights of an inch of a space for those dead bees to drop to and the live bees still crawl over their fallen comrades to get out. That's been an issue in my writings and I didn't mean for it to be one. It's a tempest in a beekeeping teapot. The main thing is to have an entrance reducer in somewhere, but normally the notch, when in a perfect world, would be turned upward, not downward because of these dead bees dropping off.

Kim: It says something for an upper entrance.

Jim: It says a lot for an upper entrance. I always provide one.

Kim: Right now, an upper entrance people are looking at twice because of the ventilation aspect of what happens if you provide a lot of ventilation in the winter in that box. If you don't, do you get warm air rising hitting that inner cover, condensing, and dripping back down on the bees? One of the things that I ran into just recently, there's a hive designed by a fellow in England and his upper entrance is in the middle of the box, not the top. He says, that works. He's in the UK and he says that works pretty good for him there. He doesn't get any condensation and if he gets a lot of snow, he's got an entrance and it doesn't get blocked with dead bees that crowd out on the floor.

Jim: That's interesting. I have never heard that. I don't really disagree with it. I just didn't see that coming.

Kim: I didn't either.

Jim: Let's take a break and hear from our sponsor and let me think about it.

[background music]

Betterbee: Hi, we're starting the winter holiday celebrations. Nothing is better for a stocking stuffer, post as a gift or party favor than honey, homemade hand cream, candles, or lip balm. If you want to learn how to craft these or other products of the hives such as beeswax, you can visit betterbee.com for tips, tricks, and products made by love, by you and your honeybees. From all of us at Betterbee, we wish you wonderful winter holidays and terrific celebrations.

Kim: As far as it goes of putting the entrance, for our UK friend, putting it in the middle.

Jim: At least they have an emergency exit if it's needed. Go ahead. No harm in trying.

Kim: I'm not going to adopt this guy's complete hive. He's got some aspects of it that I don't particularly want to have to work with. They're not bad, it's just I'm used to doing it a different way, but that middle entrance thing caught my attention and you probably see some attention given to that coming up. It's not available in the US, you have to build it yourself.

Jim: I like the way you said that that's not something you do, isn't it? It's painful to change, isn't it? You've got your way. Somebody's got their way and I'm not changing. I've got my way but let me think.

I don't like auger holes, Kim. I'm off the subject. I don't care for auger holes. I've never liked those things. I would rather slip the equipment back on itself and leave a shallow opening along the front than to bore a hole in the equipment because invariably, I have to move that colony and then there's that hole that's got to be plugged up. It's not a big deal. I just don't routinely bore auger holes. Here comes the calls. Now get ready. Here come all the auger hole people explaining why that's a good thing to do.

Kim: Careful, he says, it is more like a tree than a box if you put that opening in the middle. There may be something there that we've overlooked. Getting back to that colony, I've determined that, let's just put it this way. One of them is really busy flying. They're just glad to be out, and they're out pooping in front of the colony like mad. The other one is beginning to wake up and one of them is expired. It isn't here anymore. What do you do? Okay, so you say the first one you want to look at is the one you know is alive. What are you looking for? What do you do?

Jim: If it's alive, how much alive is it? Does it look like it's got a shot or is this thing a cup of bees and a desperate queen? Because Kim, there's still enough winter left that that colony's prognosis is not good. If you look at a colony and there's a good bee population still there and you think it's got a shot at making it till spring, then that's the one I'm wanting to put the resources on. If I've got some honey left over and a dead out, I'll consolidate that. I want to center that brood nest in the box.

I don't want to make a lot of major changes, but I would center that brood nest up in the equipment and then put that extra honey that I'm giving them that honey right on top of that soon-to-be wintering cluster again because cold weather's coming back. It's not gone. Then what I'm left with then is a colony that has a chance, and I'll put that honey on top of it. What happens to that small colony hypothetically, that one that's not going to make it? Can I be blunt? It's dead, it just hasn't finished dying.

There's not a lot you can do. All that newspaper and combining with something else, you really can't do that here in northeast Ohio in the latter weeks of January. It's just not going to work out. It's just going to be hard to be a hero there. Maybe if you got three or four of these things, you could shake them all together. But if you're starting to do all this on that rare 50-degree day, you need to start just the time that temperature is up because those radical changes are going to require time and temperature for those bees to get repositioned into a cluster and then be ready for the cold to come back.

It's not going to be easy to help a small colony. Shoot a hole in that, Kim.

Kim: You just said that strong colony, you're going to be centering the brood nest and then putting food on top. When you're centering the brood nest on there, you're moving frames around?

Jim: I'm moving frames over. I'm not moving them up and down that much. Probably if they're up against the side wall, I just want 'em over in the center.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: I don't want them against that side wall, but I'm not really moving frames up and down.

Kim: You're in there, you've got the top box off, or you've got the cover and inner cover off depending on how many boxes. You're putting smoke in that hive and you're consolidating whatever brood is in that box into the middle of two, three, four, five frames.

Jim: I think so.

Kim: Okay. [laughs]

Jim: Was that a question or a statement? [laughs]

Kim: I'm trying to envision this because I've always been reluctant to move frames. I can see why you're doing it. It makes perfect sense is to get the bees and the food as close together as you can and then food above it because they're going to move up some more. I've always been reluctant to move frames because tomorrow, it's not going to be 50, it's going to be 30 and the bees that are trapped, that get abandoned over on that edge frame aren't going to be able to get back to the middle, are they?

Jim: I moved them so they're not going to be on that edge frame. But you're making a deal out of this that I didn't mean to be a deal. Yes, number one, I feel your reluctance. Number two, work quickly and get out of there because this is a little island of weather that's not going to last. Don't start a major bee operation. That's why I said the prognosis of that small colony is not good. But if there's four frames, maybe five frames of bees and they're over on those four frames against a wall, I'm just going to pull out maybe the other four frames and then slip everything over toward the center so that it's centered.

I'm not really pulling frames out. I'm not looking for queen patterns. I'm not doing anything that because every bee that leaves that hive…. can I say that there's probably a 40 or 50% chance at least that it's not going to find that colony again? They're going to be out buzzing around even at 45 or 50 degrees. They're going to become chilled, disoriented, and not get back. It's easy to do more harm than good. Work quickly, make your changes, colony is alive. It looks like it's got a chance of making it, needs some honey.

Here's some honey, I'll put it here and then close it up and go because it got to get back into that cluster form for the afternoon weather when it drops back down to 42 that night, 30 or even colder depending on the forecast. They have got to re-cluster. Don't work them until 4:30 in the afternoon and give them no time to recover from what you've done to them.

Kim: That makes sense. You're recommending cleaning up the bottom board no matter what reducer you got in there, you got the notch up. Some twig or something that you can get in there and scoop out all the dead bees that you got in there. Clean that up. That'll help. Make sure the entrance reducer is in the right way and going to stay there. That it's stuck in there, not loose, and get the bees in the best place in the box. I guess that makes.

Jim: Why hasn't a beekeeper out, of all that beekeepers have invented, why hasn't anyone ever made a gadget for pulling those dead bees out? Because yes, I use a twig. I use a hive tool as far as it'll reach, but there is no dead bee removal brush that I know of. Now maybe I've overlooked something because there's so many new things out there, but one would think that there'd be some way to clean those bees out expeditiously and then be done with it rather than a twig. Here's this twig. This will work. Oh, here's another twig that will work. [laughs] Those twigs are a lot like hive-top-rocks, aren't they?

A beehive doesn't come with a hive-top-rock. You have to go find one to keep the lid from blowing off.

Kim: It is the cheapest piece of beekeeping equipment you'll ever own, that rock. [laughs]

Jim: Yes, that's right. A hive twig.


Kim: I guess I'm ready for 50 degrees tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. I'll probably need boots because there'll be standing water out there underneath my hive stand. But that's why they're on a hive stand.

Jim: That opening comment where you and I chatted for a bit, we mentioned people who are far ahead of us. If they're sitting there now listening to their car, radio, or whatever, and in your deep in the South, you've got pollen coming in. You can forget this hive twig business and entrance reducers. You're well beyond that. Those beekeepers need to be looking at reversing brood boxes to be sure that the developing brood nest already has two boxes to lay in and already thinking about swarm prevention. They can already kiss off any pollen substitute addition… too late.

You miss that window because they're bringing in natural pollen now. For that group of people in warm climates, essentially the spring season's here. Get on with that. Considerably ahead of what we're doing here, Kim.

Kim: Yes. In a way, I'm jealous of that. I'd like it to be 70 tomorrow, but I don't want it to be 110 in July. [laughs]

Jim: That's true. When you said that, I was thinking, yes, but those bee beekeepers in a warm climate, they have to work a lot longer than we do. They're out there on the job already and you and I are still drinking warm coffee and looking out the window on a snowy day.

Kim: I'm going to keep doing that today. I'm glad I brought this up because you brought up some good things that I'm going to have to look at tomorrow. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Jim: You've guilted me into going out and looking it my own, so I'll go out too. I didn't know the weather was coming. The weather predictors are a nice beekeeping tool and they don't get credit for it.

[background music]

Kim: You're right.

Jim: It was only a few decades ago, no offense to the weather predicting people, but they weren't always right. They're pretty much on the money now. That's a handy bee tool just to watch the Weather Channel.

Kim: Yes. I'm going to go watch the Weather Channel some more I think, and get ready for going out and looking at my bees tomorrow.

Jim: All right. Let's have a good day. Be refreshed. Spring is here, Kim. It just doesn't look like it. All right. Bye-Bye.

[00:19:52] [END OF AUDIO]