If you left your hives in the fall with plenty of honey, they should still be doing well. However, the long, warm fall without new forage may mean depleted stores.
To check a hive, gently tilt the hive off the hive stand and feel the weight. It should feel much heavier than just a stack of wooden boxes. If there’s not a good heft to it — or if you’re not sure — start emergency feeding as soon as the weather permits opening the hive. Don’t open the hive during foul weather while the bees are clustered.
It’s too cold to feed syrup in winter. The bees won’t take it, and syrup increases humidity in the hive, which is deadly in cold weather. Instead, use dry sugar in one of two ways:
- Mountain Camp method. Here’s a good writeup: Mountain Camp Method of Dry Sugar Feeding. (In the maritime Pacific Northwest we generally have pollen year round, so read the bits about feeding pollen with that in mind.)
- Or just fill a frame feeder with dry sugar.
Entrances become blocked from dead bees in the winter. Blocked entrances can kill healthy bees that can’t get out, so if the bees don’t have or use an upper entrance, check and clear entrances regularly. Slide a straight stick or your hive tool along the bottom board to clear away dead bees, quietly so as not to disturb the cluster. It’s always a good idea to seriously clean your hive tool after you use it.
Patti Loesche, Bob Combs