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It is the month of January, and the bees are tightly clustered in the centre of the hive, protecting themselves from the cold. The only movement that takes place is that of the bees on the outside of the cluster, pushing their way towards the centre. By this constant replacement of bees on the periphery, it means that losses from extreme temperatures will be kept to a minimum. In the centre of the cluster, a constant temperature is maintained by the vibration of the bees' large wing muscles, almost like shivering. This energy provides a source of heat , which will sustain the colony. The queen has not been laying for a couple of months, but she now begins to deposit the first few eggs in cells in the warmest part of the cluster.
It is too cold for the hives to be opened, but there are things to look for in the apiary.
Check to see wind or animals have not overturned the hives. If they are overturned, reassemble the hives and give them a feed on top of the frames.
Unblock entrances if they get snowed up.
Check for woodpecker damage, woodpeckers can be deterred with small mesh wire or polythene sacks wrapped around the hives.
Check floor for signs of a mouse getting into the hive, such as large pieces of wax on the ground at the hive entrance.
Check the varroa screen below the brood box for fallen varroa. See DEFRA leaflet “Managing Varroa” for treatment with oxalic acid.
Fondant, to make up for your autumn deficiencies, should be placed on the frames above the cluster.
Review the hive positions re sun and wind; this can be a good time to move a hive within the apiary.
There are a few jobs that can be done in the shed.
Make up frames, but leave the wax fitting until March.
Clean the smoker and queen excluders.
Clean old frames: buy a wax scraper/remover for the frame sides, or use an old tea urn to boil them clean.
Blowlamp your spare solid floors (which should have been replaced by varroa screen floors), spare cover boards, empty supers and spare brood boxes.
Make up new equipment:
You need 50% more equipment than you have as occupied hives. A spare brood box for every two occupied hives (for artificial swarming or shook swarms), and a nucleus hives (one for two hives) so you can remove the queen when required etc.
Make up spare crown boards. clearer boards. dummy boards. Hive stands.