Once your bees are tucked in for the winter, you might think that there is not much left to do until the spring thaw. But in some respects, what you do during this fallow period is critical in determining whether you will ultimately succeed in your beekeeping endeavors.
The most important work you can do to benefit your bees in winter is to think about and decide upon a summer management plan. There is probably a difference between the number of colonies you would LIKE to maintain, and the number you can actually manage. Other work and family obligations are significant time commitments….as are your bees. Since beekeeping is physically demanding, it is NOT a practical means to a “retirement income”. It is, however, a wonderful hobby that you can downsize. As you age, you can adjust your equipment to medium or even shallow boxes as your physical strength dictates. It is also important to recognize that your landscape has an intrinsic “carrying capacity” for bees. Because local ecosystems vary greatly from one area to another, there is no one-‐size-‐fits-‐all formula for determining carrying capacity. Remember the adage “all beekeeping is local”, and learn through observation and experience what the upper limit of colony numbers is for your area.
Once you have a plan for the coming year, you can look at your equipment needs. Now is the time to scrutinize your Honey House (or garage, or shed, or wherever your beekeeping gear is stored). Would this be the time to organize your resources so that you can more easily find those entrance reducers, queen excluders, etc.? If you have a pile of culled frames, now is the time to clean them, and install new foundations. Some work will need to be done in relatively warm weather, such as painting or installing foundations, while other tasks are perfect for doing in the cold. If you use a freezer to freeze drone brood frames and store protein supplements and medications, for example, the cold winter is an ideal time to defrost and clean it. Your supplies can safely sit outside the freezer when the temperature is below 32°F (0°C). Other work to be done may include repairing or assembling hive furniture. What should be replaced? Are there supplies that are running short that need to be ordered? Is there painting to do?
Finally, it is a good idea to prepare for possible spring emergency feeding needs. Have a few gallons of 2:1 sugar feed available, or fondant if you need to feed as early as February.