January 20, 2020 – The bees are in their winter cluster, except for very warm and sunny days (roughly 50ºF and above), when they might leave the hive for a cleansing flight. Queens may lay a few eggs, in which case the cluster will need to keep the brood warm. Dead bees may pile up on the bottom board; on warm days, the bees may remove the bodies, and other bees may fly off to die. Dead bees scattered on the snow outside the hive are therefore a good sign.
When inspecting a colony in winter, it is not necessary to open it. Do a quick external inspection, visual and auditory, to check the cluster. Listen for the bees with your ear directly on the upper part of the hive; if you do not hear anything, tap the outside of the hive and the bees should respond. You can open the hive if it is relatively warm and windless outside, but do not pull frames or break open the cluster if it is below 50ºF. If you open the hive, check for moisture around the inner or outer covers. Check if the colony is light on food stores (you can tell by gently hefting the hive)… If so, add warm fondant, or a warm candy board on a warm day.
Order any replacement bees (packages, nucs, or queens) as soon as possible; producers generally run out fast. Check any stored equipment for pests such as wax moths. Take inventory. Fix, clean/sterilize, purchase, assemble, and paint equipment as needed.
Ensure that the hive cover is properly secured. Check for evidence of critters living in the nice, toasty hive. Remove ice blocking the hive entrance, and clean away dead bees on the screened bottoms front few inches to give the colonies better ventilation. A few dead bees or a small amount of fecal matter outside the hive is nothing to worry about, especially after a warm day; this is a sign that they are still alive inside.
Don’t forget to renew your membership in your local beekeeping club DCBC and the WHPA (Wisconsin Honey Producers Association, get their meetings on your calendar. Sit by the fire and read a good beekeeping book!