The Anxiety of Winter

The bees of 1205. These two are quite dark, but there is a high variation in coloration amongst the sisters of this hive.

There hasn’t been much activity on the blog the last several weeks. I have been readying for winter, but still have been checking bee related things regularly. Though it is not quite officially winter yet the winter anxiety has begun for me.  My favorite winter pass-time is worrying and waiting.

There has been much less activity out of the hives. Two weeks ago I was off of work for the first week of deer season here in Indiana. There are hives on the hunting property. This is the FIRST year I’ve heard bees flying while sitting in a tree stand. I don’t know exactly what they were looking for in the woods, but I heard the distinctive frequency of several workers buzzing around me on many occasions. I did find dandelions blooming in several locations early in November, but I did not see any in this woods.

1206 – Back in October.

There are three hives at this site. These hives were observed daily as I would walk past them  on my way home. A couple of days it warmed to almost 60 degrees and two of the hives showed good activity at the restricted entrance. One hive 1206 showed no activity. There is a possibility that 1206 has already expired. It was not as robust as the other two hives at this location. There is nothing that I can really do for them now, so it is watch and WAIT and worry.

I am not going to write 1206 off yet. In the past I have stated that each hive has its own personality. Some hives maintain a presence at the entrance all winter long letting me know they are there on sunny days.  I have also had other colonies that only come out on the nicest of days for cleansing flights.  They could be in there snug as a bug in a rug with no desire to show themselves.

I remembered a similar hive from last year.  The genetics do not come from the same place, but 1106 was looking at a similar situation going into winter last year. 1106 made 2 supers worth of honey in 2012 and was not fed or treated.

Log of 1106 9/12/11 – AG – This hive really surprised me today.  The last time I looked at it, there was almost no comb construction in the top deep.  Today all of the frames have been drawn out.  The construction of the comb looks ugly, but much of it is full of capped honey.  I thought it was a gonner last time I checked it.  May make it through the winter.

10/24/2011 – No activity at entrance, but good activity inside.  Much cross-coming in upper deep.  Some probability of overwintering.  Top deep probably 50-75% full of capped honey.  Added Mouse Guard, Attic box and plastic bottom insert. “

At the same site 1205 shows great promise.  These bees were at the entrance every day, even on cold mornings.  This was one of the largest swarms I caught all summer (and perhaps ever).  I am nearly certain that this group came from feral stock.  It came from another one of the places that was near an apiary “of old”.  There have been no managed hives in the area for at least 10 years.  They are one of the best catches of 2012.

Looking back at my records I see that the same pattern produces high catch rates for example 1203, 1204, 1207, 1208, 12010, & CV1201 all the same pattern.  From 2011:  1104, 1106, 1109, 1110, & 1111.  Ask around this winter and find similar SPOTS where you live.  If you put traps in a similar location you are likely to catch bees for free.

I am ready for March to get here. In order to keep from worrying 24 / 7, I’ve begun work on wooden-ware that will be used next year. There will be more on that in a future post.

What are you doing this time of year?

Are you having doubts or worrying about certain hives?


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20 Responses to The Anxiety of Winter

  1. Bill says:

    I’m certainly learning about the winter anxiety this year. To me it’s a lot like the feeling you get as a new parent when you put the baby down to sleep for the night. Everyone’s going to be asleep, so nobody is going to be monitoring the baby.

    It’s been pretty bad for me the past month with the 4:30 sunsets and rainy weather. I’ve only had a couple opportunities to visit the hives. Each time the temps were below 50 and there was no activity. But I put my ear to the hive and give it a knock to see if anyone’s home and they buzz back. I’ve also been hefting and weighing the hives as a means of checking the food stores without opening them. I was surprised to see that they actually haven’t lost any weight in the past month.

    My only concern is with the one hive that has (or had) a varoa infestation. They’ve been pulling out infested larva, which I assume is their means of dealing with the mites. But that also means their winter bee population will be lower. So yep, I’m just waiting it out and trying not to worry.

    • Jason says:

      Dark at 4:30, man that sucks. I thought 6:00 was bad. It has been raining off and on here for the last 3 days. This fall/winter has been as strange as the spring and summer were. There have been a lot of flying days here in November and December. Have you had any cold weather yet?

      Pulling out infested larvae.. Have you seen the mites on them? Can you tell if some of the larvae are workers or are they all drones? I have seen mites as well as some deformed wings in some of my hives. I am also allowing the bees to deal with all of it.

      I found out about this link in one of my bee journals this month.

      Haven’t seen the actual study yet. I need to get it.

      • The temps here haven’t dropped below freezing yet, but they’ve been consistently in the mid 30s to high 40s. No snow in my neighborhoods. Just rain.

        I’ll sometimes see a larva that has been dragged out of the hive and I’ve seen mites on those. Here’s a photo. I found that larva at the hive entrance. I moved it up top to get a photo. But I see quite a lot more larva among the hive debris at the bottom of the hive. Here’s a photo taken from underneath through the screened bottom board. I’m fairly certain these are worker larva because during my last inspection (2 months ago) I observed that all of the drone comb had been back-filled with honey.

        I’m keeping my hopes up for this hive. This month’s issue of Bee Culture magazine actually has an article about hygienic behavior and removing infested or diseased larva. So the fact that this colony is engaging in this type of behavior gives me some confidence in their genetics. But if the infestation was too much for them to handle then there may not be enough winter bees to see them through. But so far, so good. They don’t seem to really be in a lot of trouble yet. But without any good flying days it’s really hard to tell with my lack of experience.

        • Jason says:

          That is quite the collection of dead bees and larva. I need to get a camera shots of the underside of the screened bottom boards. I have no idea what mine look like right now.

          We have had a couple frosty mornings, but we haven’t had what I would call a “hard freeze” yet. I don’t have any bees at the house now and I really miss having them here.

          Even after you get a couple years in it is still hard to tell sometimes if hives will overwinter. I have had it go both ways. Things look bad in the fall –> the colony over winters. Things look promising –> they fail to overwinter…. You just have to wait until spring to know for sure.

          Good luck.

  2. Jeff says:

    Since I’m just getting started i’ll be making all my woodenware this winter. so far I have boards ripped and crosscut for 4 deeps and 8 mediums and I have the table saw setup to do the finger joints, after that I’ll cut the rabbits and handholds and then it’s onto the other parts of the hives.
    Other than that I’ll be reading and studying a lot of bee books and getting all the info I can off the internet. I’m looking foward to getting into beekeeping.

    • Jason says:

      You have been busy.

      Don’t know if you have an i-pod or smart phone, but you can listen to Langstroth on the hive and the honey Bee AUDIO Book. I have been through that one several times going too and from work. Langstroth preaches a little in the book, but it is interesting to learn about Langstroth’s observations on bees. Did you know he lived over in Oxford, OH for 28 years… His cottage is still there. I am going to go check it out this winter.

      What books are you reading from?

      Do you have an account on You can spend a lot of hours reading there.

  3. Jeff says:

    Thanks for the link to the audio book! I have an i-phone and will definitly be listening to it. Thats very interesting that Langstroth lived in Oxford, I looked up the address and it’s right on 27 across from Spring St., I pass by there all the time when coming to Brookville.
    I just registered at and Beemasters International a couple of weeks ago….tons of information.
    Right now I’m reading Beekeeping for dummies and Keeping Bees by Ashley English. Do you have any others you would recommend.
    It’s unbelievable how much information is out there, when you start digging for it.

    • I was very disappointed with Beekeeping for Dummies. In fact, it almost turned me off to the idea of beekeeping. If you’re leaning more in the direction of the natural/treatment-free approach then I recommend The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping.

      • Jason says:

        Thanks for the advice Bill. I havn’t read either of those.

        I find it hard to read a lot of current literature on beekeeping because a lot of it does advocate treatment and feeding. I have been working on a list of recommended readings to post, but just haven’t gotten it done. If you any other recommended DO and Don’t read books feel free to let me know. I would like to look them over.

    • Jason says:

      Most of the stuff I read on bees is very old. There are many titles that you can get for free on One title I really enjoyed was Hubers Observations. Michael Bush sells it, but you can find Volume I for free on google books or just read it on Bush’s site.

      Huber’s Natural History of the Honey Bee – 1841 – This is the guy that figured out much of what we know today about honeybees. Great for basic bee biology.
      First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant – 1919 – good book… Shows that a lot of practices and different little tricks have been tried in beekeeping. Made me feel like I could experiment with beekeeping.

      I have read not read Beekeeping for Dummies, Keeping Bees or Complete Idiot’s guide to Beekeeping. I have a list of books that I have read. Unfortunately I can’t find it currently.

      I have been focusing on old literature. A lot of the new stuff I have read advocates feeding and treating. In the older literature the focus is on keeping strong colonies without chemicals. Langstroth talks about this at length when he is discussing the bee moth in his book. He states the only defense against the moth is keeping strong healthy colonies.

  4. Jeff says:

    I’m like you I plan on keeping my bees naturally, thats how I garden also.
    I’m on chapter four of Langsroths book and really enjoying it, Ill check out your other recommendations, Thanks!

  5. Jeff says:

    Thanks Bill, I’ll check out The complete Idiots Guide to Beekeeping.
    I think I’ll return the Dummies book to the Library, I hadnt gotten too far into it anyway! lol

  6. Larry says:

    I wasn’t impressed with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. The authors were not really that experienced and to my knowledge have yet to produce a surplus of their own honey or bees. They primarily pack and sell honey they purchase from others while touting small cell and treatment free beekeeping.

    • Jason says:

      I was unaware. It has taken me a while to respond to you because I wanted to research this. You appear to be correct Larry. According to Amazon The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping was written by Dean Stiglitz (Author), Laurie Herboldsheimer (Author). Those are the people from that video.

      As a disclaimer I will say that I am not an “expert” on beekeeping. In 2012 I did make and sell some honey, but it is no where close to a primary source of income.

      In 2013 I promise to work more on a reading list that I have used over the last several years. Most of the books I read are old (FREE) books about bees found on Many of those books were written in the 1800’s when there was no alternative to treatment free beekeeping.

      There are so many divisive issues in beekeeping. From what type of box to house them in to what size cells WE BELIEVE they should create. I don’t know what to make of the cell size argument SO I use no foundation and let them build their own for the brood nest. In the supers I do use a limited amount of foundation. I will be showing that in posts when I get into the hives in late March or early April 2013. It is a method that worked well for me in 2012.

      Thanks for sharing your observation about this book and thanks for reading the blog.

    • That is a valid concern, however in my further research and learning I haven’t come across anything that invalidates what’s in that book. There certainly are other, more informative books out there, but I think The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping is a good introduction. It’s well rounded in introducing a new beekeeper to the biology of the bee, the environment of the beehive, and the seasonal needs. It covers a lot of basics and, unlike most modern books, promotes natural, sustainable methods. I think it’s a good book to help someone get started, then once they have a hive or two of their own and get some hands-on experience the real learning starts.

      I just got Michael Bush’s book, The Practical Beekeeper and have started reading it. Most of what’s in the book is also available for free on his website, but I wanted to have a hard copy reference to turn to and read offline. This book (and website) are full of great information, but I think it should come after getting familiar with the basics. This resource would be more beneficial to an experienced (or novice) beekeeper that wants to study and practice natural beekeeping.

      • Jason says:

        Well, I guess the only way that I can deal with this is to just get it and read it. If you think it is a good book then I will not tear it apart. At this time I can’t make a statement either way because I haven’t read it. I have never been a huge fan of Idiot’s Guide – books in the past, but will give this one a shot.

        I have been reading from Mr. Bush’s site since before I began keeping bees. I must admit that I have drawn a lot from it. My top entrances are based on the one that he shows on his site. His site was where I first read Francois Huber’s book after hearing about him on a beekeeping podcast. I was quite jealous when I found out that Anita from Beverly Bees got to meet Mr. Bush last summer at a conference.

        As always thanks for the input Bill.

  7. Jeff says:

    Just ordered Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping from Amazon, looking foward to reading it.
    Another book that i got out of the library and started reading is First Lessons In Beekeeping, Im only in the first chapter, but it looks pretty good so far.
    Having to force myself to go out in the cold garage and work on my woodenware, but Im making pretty good progress and should have no problem getting everything ready for spring.

    • Jason says:

      Along with two other books I am ordering it tonight. I have spent a lot of time in my cold garage lately as well. In fact I just completed a post about it. That will be up next Wednesday. My biggest obstacle is going to be getting everything painted early enough to let it dry well prior to putting it into service. I don’t know if off-gassing is really that big of a deal, but I try to error on the side of caution when it comes to my girls.

      I have been working on the house every time I get a day off. Stop in if you see my green truck there.

  8. Jeff says:

    I will, I’m typically only there on the weekends, since I dont live there yet, but I’ll keep an eye out for ya. looking foward to seeing what your doing. It will be about 5 years before I’m living there full time, got to get my youngest through college before first, before I build.
    I went down to Dadant in Frankfort Ky and ordered 2 nucs last week, not sure if thats the right way to get started or not, since I know ferral bees are more desirable, but I figured it is a good way to get kick started and then I can start putting out traps for swarms etc.
    I agree its probably better to get everything painted and cured as soon as possible, better to be safe.

  9. Larry says:

    My methods have changed over the years. Now, I often use cypress boxes left au naturel. When I do apply a finish I have been using Pittsburgh Paints Ultra Advanced Semi-Transparent Deck, Fence & Siding Stain. I like that it can be easily applied at temperatures down to 35 degrees and cleans up with soapy water. I prefer the semi-transparent Driftwood Gray color. It allows my outyards to blend into the background color of local winter woodlands allowing them to be “prudently obscure”.

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