Winter Beekeeping Thoughts by Greg Heller

Winter has suddenly and undeniably arrived in North Spokane County. With winter has come different tasks that were not necessary just a few weeks ago. Every couple of days the firewood needs to be brought in, and each morning I have to rekindle the remnants of the fire of the night before.

Beekeeping, likewise, has suddenly changed. No longer am I exploring the depths of the hive, nor do I find myself regularly wandering out to the apiary to see what the bees are doing. (In my imagination, I think they maybe would like a little woodstove in their home, like I have in mine.) From outside the hive, there is little to see.

Winter is a great time for learning. Many evenings I find myself looking at my favorite beekeeping sites, and there are so many books to read. Tonight I started “Honeybee Democracy,” by Thomas D. Seeley. It promises to be a great read, and is available from the Spokane County Library, at least will be when I am done with it. The library actually has quite a collection of beekeeping books and e-books, if you likewise are looking for good books to read.

Winter is also a great time for planning. Let’s see, I have two hives right now, and am thinking of having 4-5 next year – do I have enough equipment? Not quite, I need to acquire a few more supers and frames when the price is right. So, I am watching for sales, especially around Black Friday. And how am I going to populate the hives? At the moment I am hoping that I can do a split of each hive (assuming they both survive), which will populate four hives. Then maybe catch a swarm, which will give me five colonies. But what if one, or even both, colonies fail this winter? So, I will probably order a package of bees as well, just so I am not left with nothing if disaster strikes.

Next year I am planning on raising a queen or two. Not by doing anything elaborate like grafting, but I discovered this year that having a spare queen around would be a great thing. Fortunately, when my queen disappeared, a friend and mentor was there to help me out. Maybe I can pass on the favor to another this year. Perhaps as you make plans for next year, you could consider raising a spare queen as well?

It is also a great time to clean up, repair, and fabricate equipment. I am not a great woodworker, so there is little that I fabricate, but cleaning and fixing are in my skillset, as it should be for most
beekeepers, so I’ll get that done soon enough.

As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things I am thankful for is my first year with the bees. I am thankful for the learning, the stings, the astonishingly generous friendships, the fear, the honey, the pollination, and all the other good things that come through this part of God’s handiwork. Yes, I am thankful for stinging insects that just over a year ago I cared little about. Funny that.

Next time, I think I’ll write a little more about winter management activities. I hope you will come back and read the blog again. Thanks for enjoying the moment with me.