Feeding may be necessary this month because our winter has been mild and the bees have been active. A quick peak at the top box without lifting frames can indicate whether or not there are still stores available. Hive weight is also an indicator. Forty to fifty pounds would be ideal. Feed dry sugar via fondant, or place on the top bars dry sugar on newspaper or in a ziplock bag with slits. Moisture in the air will harden the sugar. Syrup this time of year is not appropriate because nights of 30s and 40s and warm daytime spikes will not heat the syrup sufficiently.
On days of 46 degrees and above bees will be making cleansing flights. Scrape dead bees from the bottom board via the front entrance. Make sure front entrance is clear. It is not uncommon for more than half the bees in a colony to die, and for 10 percent or more of the colonies to die. Starvation, either from lack of honey or from inability to reach the honey in extremely cold weather, is the most common cause of winter death in colonies.
The queen will have begun laying a few eggs in January and increasingly in February. It is female eggs only until March.
Read up on Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae. N. apis is most visible in the spring and N. ceranae presents risk year-round. “The Beekeeper’s Handbook” by Sammataro and Avitabile has extensive coverage of this disease. In January PSBA sponsored a Nosema 101 class taught by Evan Sudgen Entomologist and UW Lecturer. Watch for that opportunity repeat next year.
Review forage options for your bees by reading at https://www.pugetsoundbees.org/bee-friendly-gardening. How might you increase the options? Bee sightings during our warm January included sarcococca, hellebores, ornamental mahonia, daphne odora, ceanothus, and rosemary.
A kilo of honey produces 11.4 BTU and about 1898 BTUs are burned over the winter to warm the cluster. (Source is “The Beekeeper’s Handbook” by Sammataro and Avitabile)