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The Apiary Year – January

A more concise version of this information is available on Dorset Beekeepers' BeeInfo.

The bees are probably quiet at this time of year with little activity apart from the odd cleansing flight. Looking at weather statistic for January I see that in the period 1981 to 2010 the average maximum temperature was 8.6C and the minimum 4.1C and just 4.3 days of air frost. Not a cold month though we may get cold spells and even some snow.

I have an out apiary and even though it is a quiet time I still get over there about once a week. As I approach the hives I am looking for:

  • Are the hives standing straight with the boxes all in line or have they been dislodged by animals such as deer or by the wind?
  • Are any bees flying - doing cleansing flights?
  • Is there any physical damage to the hives from wood peckers?

Then when I am at the hive

  • Lift of the lid and check if there is any fondant on the crown board and add a new block if the bees have taken most of it.
  • You could add a layer of polystyrene about 20 to 30mm thick below the roof and above the crown board. This will help the bees maintain the warmth in the hive. If you leave it in all year then this will also help the bees keep the hive cooler in the heat of summer.
  • Sniff inside hole on the crown board. Does it smell right or is there a mouse smell? If there is a mouse smell then best to remove it and the only way to do that is to lift up the brood box and persuade it to leave. This is really a job for three people - two to lift and one to remove the mouse if it does not flee on its own. Next year make certain that you put on the mouse guards sooner than you did this year.

And that is enough at the hive. Every disturbance you make to the hive brings the bees out of their dormancy and then they have to consume stores. I will leave it to you to decide how much disturbance you think they can tolerate. I tend to wait for a warmer day and then check the hive quickly and quietly.

Away from the apiary there is plenty that you can be doing:
  • Make up new frames - but do not put the wax in yet.
  • Construct a new hive stand. They do not last forever and it is much easier to replace the stand in the spring when the hive is that much lighter than to try to replace it when the brood box is well populated.
  • Make dummy boards. Looking on the site of a well known supplier I see dummy boards cost about £6 each. You can buy a lot of wood for that and make your own. If you do not know what a dummy board is I will explain. It is the same as a frame but has no wax foundation. It is simply a flat piece of MDF or similar. Its purpose is to fill in gaps in the hive to prevent heat loss and discourage the bees from filling any gaps with brace comb. Some bee keepers use a dummy board in the super as it allows them to remove the dummy board and then give themselves space to work.
  • Read - there is so much to know about the fascinating world of bees.

That is enough for January. It is not a busy month for either bees or bee keepers but it does give an excellent opportunity to catch up on all those jobs which we do not have time for in the summer.

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