Karl Colyer

Temperature and weather are massive influences on the bees. February may have occasional glimpses of mild weather but do not be tempted to open up the hive.

Resources for your bees
Food stores will steadily be running lower and many beekeepers are becoming increasing curious as to whether their bees still have enough to get through to the spring. If February has some mild days, the bees may be able to venture out to find some daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops. If your bees are bringing pollen back in, it is a doubly good sign. Firstly, they are able to find and recover suitable forage in the area and secondly, it is a likely indicator that the larvae are receiving fresh pollen to help them grow.

If your fondant is untouched, it visually confirms that there are still adequate honey reserves in your hives. If you have no fondant on the crown board, have a peep into the crown board hole to check if bees are present. If they are, it is time to feed!

Feeding strategy
If you are wanting some or all of your colonies to have a solid start to the new season, there is an option to feed your bees. Dandelions are a volume source of pollen and nectar. Know when they come out in your area. The eggs, that are laid six weeks before the dandelion season starts, will have grown, hatched and matured into foragers to gather the upcoming dandelion resources. Knowing this, you can choose to feed some warm 1:1 syrup on the milder days. The syrup will stimulate egg laying and it will allow the stores to be slightly replenished.

Tidy up your apiary
The days are getting slightly longer and it is worth trimming back weeds, bushes, trees etc. in your apiary area. Sometimes, it only requires a good raking in front of the hives. Pick a cold day to do this so that you and your bees will not be bumping into each other inadvertently. 

It is also a good time to make those tough decisions with your boxes and kit. Will you use them next season? If yes, then get on and repair, repaint, refresh and replenish them. If no, then recycle, reduce, re-purpose or redeploy them to other beekeepers in need.

Plan your year
Most beekeepers are lucky enough to have several BBKA branches within reasonable distance of their home. Have a look through their websites to see what talks and training events are organised for the year. The indoor branch meetings/talks tend to happen in the early and later months so it dovetails perfectly with tending to your bees during the summer. Do not forget to put the BBKA Spring Convention and the National Honey Show in your diary.  Perhaps it is time to order some replacement brood frames and maybe to acquire the wherewithal to rear a new colony of bees this year.  Ideal to have as a reserve colony for yourself or to give away/sell to others.  

Look over your record cards
As you replace the cards for the new season, have a look to understand which bees were the gentlest, which were the hardiest i.e. needed least interventions and treatments, and which were most productive i.e. honey crop minus syrup supplements. These bees could be good candidates to rear a new colony from; being adapted to your local conditions is invaluable for easier and more sustainable beekeeping.

Get to Know Your Bees
The queen is laying eggs at a steadily increasing rate due to the lengthening daylight and occasional days of mild weather. The lay rate will be further enhanced or stimulated by natural, substitute or supplemental pollen and syrup coming into the hive. Larvae consume a lot of fuel (nectar/honey) and food (pollen) so the reserves will become depleted even more quickly in February than January.

Some dead bees close to the entrance is more likely a sign of hygienic behaviour and the bees being able to occasionally break cluster to do some housekeeping.  Large numbers of dead bees on the floor or outside the entrance is not such a good sign; it could be disease or starvation.  At this time, it is a waiting game for the bees and beekeepers!

Photo: Karl Colyer