December brings changes to the colony which are interesting to the beekeeper. December is also a challenging month for all beekeepers regardless if you live in Florida or North Dakota. Let’s take a minute and look at what challenges your colony will face in December. We want to see everyone be successful in December!
As we all know, December is the real beginning of Winter. The cold weather keeps our bees clustered in the upper center of the hive. The reason the colony moves from the bottom of the hive to the top is “heat rises”. Colony’s utilize their cluster by rubbing against each other. Within the colony the individual honey bees circulate from the outside to the inside of the cluster. The larger the colony, the better heating ability the colony will have. So, let’s not forget that we want to have a large colony in mid-Fall to be able to survive the cold Winter.
The next critical phase of the colony is eating. Eating is very important as the bees will rarely leave the hive and when they do it is to deficate. During this time of the year it is advised to feed your bees a 2:1 sugar water ratio. You can add Tea Tree Oil and/or Lemongrass Oil as a supplement. If you use Tea Tree or Lemongrass only use 5 drops per 1 gallon.
You really do not want to disturb your colony when it is below 55 degrees as it could and probably will chill your colony resulting in bee loss. The best way to see if your colony feed to be fed is to go to the rear of the hive and gently pick-up the rear of the bottom board. You only need to lift the hive .50 inches, just enough to feel the weight of the hive. If it is really light, then feeding needs to be done immediately. If it is still heavy, then you can wait another 30 days to repeat this procedure.
It is important to realize that the colony is now slowing down and will not consume the sugar water as we would see in August. From my experience I see about a 90% decrease in sugar water consumption in December.
There is still time to add a 8 frame or 10 frame hive wrap to help retain the heat within the hive. But it is too late when your bees have frozen! January is typically when it is too late to add a hive wrap as the damage to the colony will have been done. Hive wraps retain heat and greatly reduce drafts within the hive.
Feeding pollen or fondant is also an excellent way to feed your bees. Feeding can be done in several different ways which include: 1. Dry feeding pollen to your bees, 2. Make a pollen patty with Tea Tree Oil and Lemongrass Oil, 3. Make plain fondant. Number 1 & 2 are really well liked by the bees!
If you do these minor tips in December, you are setting up your bee colony to be successful and robust in the Spring!