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January Beekeeping

January Beekeeping

January beekeeping along the Front Range is typically straight forward. Bees are still mostly clustered, but warmer days can allow some cleansing flights.

First-year colonies

If you are considering starting to raise bees this year, January is a great time to start learning as much as you can about bees. There are a great many sources of information available today which is a mixed blessing. You can find an answer to almost any question you may have about beekeeping in mere moments. The problem is you may find so many answers that the correct course of action becomes unclear. There is, of course, plenty of just plain bad advice available as well.

We recommend you develop trusted voices that you refer to as you begin your beekeeping adventure. This voice can be a mentor that you met at your local beekeeping club or a good book aimed at beginning beekeepers. One of our best selling books is Beekeeping Mentor In a Book by local author Don Studinski.

Beekeeping classes are another great way to gain the knowledge you need. In addition to our beginning beekeeping classes, we can recommend any of the courses certified by the Colorado State Beekeeping Association.

Second-year and beyond

January beekeeping for the second-year beekeeper can be relaxed or nail-biting.  If your colonies were adequately prepared including Varroa mite management, and managing winter stores, there’s nothing to do but wait for spring.

While the bees are mostly inactive, warmer days can see flurries of activity around the hive as bees perform their cleansing flights. Sometimes on warmer days beekeepers will be concerned about dead bees by the hive entrance. Winter bees normally die in small amounts throughout the season. During cold spells, undertaker bees cannot break cluster to remove their dead sisters. When a warmer day appears, they get busy and remove them occasionally causing concern for newer beekeepers.

Varroa Mites

Most colonies are likely broodless. Now is an excellent time to use oxalic acid to reduce the varroa mite load in your hives. In particular using an oxalic acid vaporizer (OAV) is a method that does not disturb the bees while being rough on mites. If your colony is broodless, OAV can have an efficacy rate of over 95%.


    • Hi Pam,

      When colonies have eggs, larvae, and pupae, we collectively call them brood. So, a broodless colony would be one without brood or a colony with only adult bees. In winter, egg laying stops, all of the brood hatches out, and we are left with only adult bees (winter bees, or fat bees specifically). All Varroa mites are phoretic (riding around on adult bees) at this time because there are no brood cells for them to be reproducing in. Oxalic acid is very effective against phoretic mites.

  • All is Lost! I am afraid that I may be at fault, which makes me feel horrible. Last fall I took action after doing the sugar shake and discovering varroa. I applied and removed the formic acid strips, and the bees recovered nicely. Since it was the first year hive, there wasn’t any honey to harvest but the brood boxes on the bottom had full combs and the boxes were very heavy. My hive was buttoned up tightly all winter including during the two cold snaps we had with only the small reducer opening. Lotsa dead bees out front, but I assumed this was normal thinning. The other day I looked and the bees are all dead, brood box still full of honey. Behind the reducer strip in the bottom was totally jammed with dead bees. No way any bees inside could get through the log jamb filled with wet, sticky bees.
    What I believe I did wrong was to not prop up the lid and too much moisture from bee respiration built up inside. this may have been totally avoidable. No one warned me about this danger of wiping out my over-winter hive.
    Is this where I went wrong?

    • Dave,

      We are terribly sorry. It does sound like inadequate ventilation may have been responsible. The three things we feel that bees need to survive winter are:
      1) to have disease and pests under control. It sounds like you were managing this, although depending on how severe mite levels were before treatment, fall treatment can be too little too late.
      2) They need enough food. Bees rarely freeze if they have enough food. As long as they have enough food in contact with the cluster, they convert sugar to heat through movement. It sounds like you had enough food.
      3) Moisture control. While cold bees can live if they have enough food, cold, wet bees die. You can control moisture either through providing ventilation near the top to allow warm, moist air created by respiration to escape or by insulating the top, so the moisture doesn’t condense when coming in contact with a cold inner cover.

      Methods of providing ventilation include using inner covers and top covers with notches in them to provide an upper entrance, propping up the top cover to allow warm air to escape through the central hole of the inner cover, or using a quilt board.

  • Question to Dave Carroccia and David

    Dave you said “the brood boxes on the bottom had full combs” implying the hive went into winter with two brood boxes? if this is so, and correct me David if I’m incorrect, In the winter bees will cluster in the top of the top brood box and will not break cluster in cold weather to get into the bottom box food stores.

    • Hi, Mark. Generally speaking (because the bees don’t read the books), bees store honey towards the top of their combs.

      Going into winter, we like to have the upper of two deep boxes filled with capped food stores. The bees will cluster in open combs directly below and in contact with this honey, and through the course of the winter and early spring, eat the honey above them while moving up into the newly empty combs.

      If your bees are clustered in the top of the top box, this could be a sign that your bees are in danger of running out of stores.

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