Bee Thinking About – For January, 2013

Editor’s Note: Welcome to a new year of month-to-month beekeeping considerations. If you’re new to this every-month article, we make a list of things to think about for your apiary—but it of course varies by geographic location, the weather you’re having, and your beekeeping preferences.

For most of our readers, January is one of the few times of year when there is very little to do in the apiary. There’s still plenty to do beyond it however, as described below.

For readers with a climate opposite that of North America’s, we hope you’re happily harvesting honey and building up your colonies. We love sharing information on beekeeping around the world, so if you find a spare minute and want to tell us about your unique challenges, please email

So, what’s to be done this time of year?

In the apiary: For most of us, external hive checks are all we dare perform because of the weather. Things to do include:

  1. Remove any snow that has blocked doorways and ventilation holes. Honeybees need fresh air, and the ability to exit for a “biobreak” when weather permits.

  2. Clear any dead bees from the entry way and ventilation holes.

  3. Look about:  Beekeeper Cleo Hogan shared that the “first thing I look for in the apiary in January and February is for what has been in the apiary. The best clues come from the tracks in the snow. Birds, rabbits, perhaps a mouse or two. Certainly no clear-thinking human.”Look for tracks. Not only is it interesting, but if you find tracks go into hives but not away from them, you may want to investigate further.One beekeeper told us when he saw lots of human tracks in the snow in his out-apiary, he kept a closer eye on it. Turns out some hunters were perhaps overly curious about bees. In years past he’d experienced hives being knocked over in the winter and the honey stolen. He suspects letting the hunters know they were seen (and making a show of writing down their license plate number) may have prevented another loss.

  4. Review the area and remove any branches that may fall onto hives under heavy snow or ice.

  5. Look for dead bees. Some dead bees is not a bad thing—it tells you the colony has recently had some live bees who were out doing their business or perhaps choosing to die outside the hive when it was their time. We can’t quantify how many dead bees would be appropriate versus how many would be alarming. That depends upon how big the colony is and your weather conditions. IF helpful to you, determine if the colony is still alive. If you don’t see any dead bees, or see what you think are way too many, perhaps you’ve lost the hive. Some beekeepers will put an ear to the hive body likely containing the cluster, and rap sharply, hoping to hear a reactive buzz.Should you do that? On one hand, it’s comforting if you hear it so you know they’re still alive. On the other hand, what are you going to do if you don’t hear it? This time of year, things inside the hive generally are what they are. There’s likely not much a beekeeper can do about whatever is going on in there unless conditions allow you to investigate further. There is one good reason to determine if you’ve truly lost a colony or not:  if you need to order more bees. Now is the time to do so (see A-Bee-Cs article in this issue.)

  6. Feed. Many parts of the US have again experienced an unusually warm start to winter. Bees NOT in their winter cluster consume more stores than clustered bees, so these may be the months where any colony short on stores may be reaching a critical level. The Mountain Camp Method, described in previous issues, is reasonable insurance against starvation IF they can get to it. (If it is quite cold, they may not break cluster to get to their own honey or anything else.) Weather permitting, you could add a liquid feeder as well, but bees generally don’t take it well unless the temperature is sustainably 45 degrees or warmer.

  7. Rejoice! Celebrate if you have an unusually warm day and see bees out flying (beyond their quick biobreaks). On an unusually warm winter day, you may want to provide nutrients, like honey, or sugar syrup.


Outside of the apiary:  there’s plenty to do, including:

  1. Repair equipment. It is much easier to remove wax when it is brittle from the cold! Spread a good coat of paint over those external hive surfaces if that’s how you protect them from the weather.

  2. Inventory and plan:  As Texan beekeeper Dennis Brown1 stated:  “January is the month I take inventory of all my hives, all my extra hive parts and make a plan for what I want to accomplish with my bees during the coming season. Then, I am able to look at what I have on hand and decide if I need to order anything before the season begins. If I do need something for the coming season, I usually place that order in January. It is never good when you get into the busy season and discover that you don’t have something and you need to order it. Planning ahead is key in order to be successful in beekeeping. If you don’t make a plan, you will always be one step behind.”

  3. Beekeeper Cleo Hogan seconded spending some time planning in January: “start seriously considering your goals for the coming year. How many hives, where they will be located, medicate or not, comb or extracted honey, need more equipment or supplies, etc.

  4. Build new equipment.

  5. Read. Start with perhaps the 2013 Kelley’s catalog, where you’ll find many must-haves, along with some great books and other resources to help you be a better beekeeper. Did you miss any newsletter issues? They’re all available at

  6. Write. We’d love to hear about your beekeeping practices—what works and doesn’t, why you keep bees, what you wished you’d known from the beginning, any helpful hints (please please please) and the unique challenges of your apiary. Email us at

  7. Organize those cool apiary photos—and send them to us! (Again, Thanks.

  8. Volunteer. We suspect your local bee club would appreciate your talents. And if there isn’t a local bee club, perhaps this is the time to get it going? Check with your community’s senior center—we suspect they’d love a bee presentation, along with the local daycare and elementary school.

  9. Pray to the bee gods for a gentle winter that allows the bees to get out when they need to do so, for the cluster to remain large and with golden, nutritious honey, and for the queen to have restorative rest to lay thousands of eggs when the season comes.

We’re sure we’ve forgotten something! 

As always, your comments and contributions welcome, email

Dennis Brown, author of Author of “Beekeeping: A Personal Journey” is a regular contributor to our newsletter. You can learn more about his approach to beekeeping at Lone Star Farms,

  • email