What does a beekeeper do in January?

In the Northern latitudes, a lot of thinking and planning. Reading.

The beginning of a new year is a great, symbolic, time to think of the year ahead: set goals, make plans, get ready to go, start to right some wrongs from the previous year.

  • Our hives are all wood and while it’s generally pretty durable, things do get damaged and need repair. We’ll start going through hive boxes, frames, lids & stands and figure out what needs repair/adjustment and what can just be stored until Spring. We had some issues with wax moths in 2018, so there will be a lot of scraping and cleaning to remove their remnants.
  • We’re not fans of wax foundation (don’t even ask about plastic), so it can be tough to encourage the bees to build straight combs. That’s makes it a lot easier to pull frames for inspection and see what’s going on inside. I’ve already started looking at the frames of comb that we have to see what can be used as-is, what can be used with some modification and what needs to be just taken out. The bees will build their combs parallel to each other, but they often curve the stuff. If the comb isn’t crazily aligned, it may just need to have some trimmed off the bottom. I’ve seen entire boxes of comb that weave all over the place and those we just remove. The trimmings will all be melted down and used for other things, though. Wax is very “expensive” for the bees to produce: they need to eat around 7kg of honey and nectar to produce 1kg of wax comb. So, I’m always mindful of that and never waste it.
    • Our view on foundation has evolved. I still don’t like that it forces the bees to build only one size of cell, but after using a started strip to help encourage straight comb, I can definitely see some use. The trick is to find clean foundation wax and that’s next to impossible unless you make it yourself. We’re going to have to figure out something: I was gifted a box of 30-year-old foundation that we’ve been using for starter strips and it won’t last forever.
  • We’ll have frames that need minor repairs or straightening and there will be a few that need to have pieces replaced. We experimented a bit with fishing line, and it did what we needed it to (reinforcing the combs) but even 30lb-test monofilament isn’t a durable as we’d like. We may try some braided line this year.
  • We have a ton of boxes to paint. Traditionally, they’re painted white, but any light colour will do.

You might think that winter is easy for a beekeeper, but we have plenty to keep us busy on top of worrying about the bees out in the cold.

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