It’s January! Happy New Year!

Ann Harman
Get it touch

While it is Winter, even in the South, it’s a good time to read a bee book. I often wonder how many books about bees have been written. Thousands? Tens of thousands? I don’t plan to try to count them. It’s now a New Year so add one to your collection. You will find reviews of new books right here in Bee Culture. Perhaps you did buy one during the year but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. So here’s a good way to start the New Year – read it.

Each year the bee equipment suppliers offer some new pieces of equipment. Since their catalogs may not be ready for 2018 yet, go online and see if anything new is featured. Hive tools once came in only one style. But now you have a wide choice of shapes and sizes. You could start out your bee year with one or two new styles. Ask at your local beekeepers club meeting if anyone has tried some of the different shapes and sizes. Suppose, after using a new one once or twice, you decide you don’t like it. Clean it up of wax and propolis and donate it to your bee club’s annual raffle.

Speaking of local bee clubs, you do have one in your area? And you do attend at least some of the meetings? Yes, everyone is too busy today to attend meetings, but those meetings are a great place to exchange information. Beekeepers love to brag about their successes (no swarms this year!) and grumble about their disasters (poor honey crop – too much rain during honeyflow time) but you just might learn something new. 

While you are looking through the suppliers’ catalogs you may come across some items you’ve never thought about. You’ve been happy with your old bee jacket or coveralls. It’s been repaired and mended so many times the repairs have repairs. Perhaps it’s time to replace it with a new one. The ventilated jackets and suits are increasing in popularity. They do make sense. As our seasons become warmer being able to feel a breeze on a stifling hot Summer day is indeed refreshing. Christmas is now past so there’s no point in waiting a year to write Santa to put it on your ‘wish list.’  Think ahead – July is always hot and humid. So go and get one of the ventilated jackets or suits before bee season starts. Since they come with a veil you can now discard your old one with its annoying patches of duct tape you used to cover up holes.

Smoker bellows are another beekeeping necessity that frequently has repaired repairs using ever-faithful duct tape. Take a look at your smoker bellows. If this is the year to replace it, then the best time to do that is in the Winter when it is sitting idle. If you live in a warm climate you may well need your smoker very soon.

Some pieces of equipment never enter our minds until we desperately need them. I’ve got robbing screens in mind. Just because robbing has not been a problem with your bees in the past doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Robbing screens not only help with bees robbing bees but also if yellowjackets become a pest. We can’t depend on perfect weather giving perfect forage, especially late in Summer. Robbing can start when you’re not looking and can turn into a disaster in the apiary. If you haven’t used robbing screens in the past, go ahead and buy one to try. It might come in handy!

Have you ever tried a frame holder, sometimes called a frame perch? (NOT a frame grabber.) It’s one of those small handy gadgets that turn out to be a huge help. It really speeds up hive inspection. You don’t have to search for good places to prop frames as you remove them. A frame holder will have the frames in order of removal so it becomes very quick and easy to replace them in their proper order. In addition it might also save your queen. If you did not notice her on a frame you just removed she is more likely to stay put on that frame while it is resting on the holder. Or she can wander over to an adjoining frame instead of deciding to hide in the grass by the side of a hive where she is certain to be squashed by your boot. If you are making comb honey and need to exchange frames you can hang beautiful finished ones safely to protect the cappings from damage. If you have never used a frame holder, make this New Year the time to see how you like it.

In this New Year what will be your New Project? You have several choices. One could be making comb honey. You could choose cut-comb or round section – or both. Yes, you will find comb honey information in books. If you go onto the internet you may well decide it’s information overload and decide to stay with extracted honey. Start out with cut-comb. No matter what you choose to try, you will need a good strong colony to take advantage of good weather during your good honeyflow time. Without those three in combination, wait until next year.

Winter losses are a topic of bee conversations today. Although colonies that died during the Winter have always been a part of beekeeping, beekeepers today seem to be facing more than in the distant past. Anything and everything are blamed. Remember to thank the bee scientists for their research. Being beekeepers we persist. And equipment manufacturers and suppliers are helping us.

Have you tried making splits, making nucs? Today that has become a very popular way to replace colonies lost. But nucs are also useful to increase the number of colonies in beeyards, making nucs for sale, and raising local queens. Equipment for making nucs is now readily available. Nuc boxes (deeps or mediums), choice of tops, inner covers, bottoms, feeders, shipping boxes, are all among other items available. And, of course, you can find books on creating and using nucs.

Local queens are in much demand. So some beekeepers may consider queen rearing as a New Project for this year. Grafting larvae is not for everyone. But there is an incredible amount of equipment for queen production and for queens in general. If you decide to raise some queens from swarm cells you will find queen catchers in order to mark her with the appropriate year color. You can find a queen rearing kit that requires no grafting. Raising queens is time-consuming and has a strict schedule so only you can decide whether this would be a good project for this year or not.

If an observation hive has always been on your ‘wish list’ why not make this New Year the year you buy or make one. The equipment suppliers offer a ‘traveling’ one that is basically a nuc with an observation window mounted above where a frame can be placed. It works well for visiting schools but is not for a permanently installed one in your home. Yes, two books are available that give information on construction and care of observation hives! You can design and build your own. Please just remember bee space! This is one project where the internet could be of help. Go ahead and see what is available. Then choose where yours will be located.

Observation hives do require management – their own special management. So you will need to take it outdoors from time to time for cleaning, requeening and other needs. An observation hive does very well with an older queen rather than a young vigorous one who is too enthusiastic about laying eggs. The bees that live in an observation hive can easily swarm and can even abscond if they decide they do not like the living conditions. Observation hives are fascinating and give you the opportunity to learn much about bees and their behavior.

Although you may have planted some bee flowers already, you not only need to plant more but also work in your community, whether rural, suburban or urban to encourage more plantings and conservation efforts. If you belong to a bee club you can inspire some of the members to participate in conservation efforts. As you drive around your area, notice if the Department of Transportation is doing something useful or just mowing everything down.  Although we are honey beekeepers, bumble bees and the pollen bees will also benefit. Visit your local garden club; get in touch with 4H and schools to encourage pollinator plantings and habitat conservation. Your bees will benefit.

Soon it will be the 2018 bee season and you will be too busy to read as much as you would like. But you have to keep up with bee news – whether good or bad. When a bee magazine arrives, whether in your mailbox or digital, take a look through it for a ‘must read’ and find the time to read it. Subscribe to CATCH THE BUZZ for news hot off the press. Other good websites with information are done by Fran Bach (this one has excellent links) and Apis Information Resource News at done by Dr. Malcolm Sanford.  With these you can easily keep up with current events in the beekeeping world.

You may very well have thought of New Year beekeeping projects of your own. Perhaps 2018 is the year to do that. So – put this article down now and get started. Oh wait . . .

It’s a New Year! It’s time to buy a new roll of duct tape. You’ll need it sometime this year. The one in your bee bucket is almost used up.

Ann Harman is getting ready for 2018 and some good beekeeping at her home in Flint Hill, Virginia.