We are now in the middle of winter and strangely most beekeepers actually prefer a cold, sharp winter with days of snow and ice as this keeps our bees safely tucked up nice and warm inside the hive. Here they stay in a torpid cluster in the centre of the hive about the size of a rugby ball with plenty of stores from last summer to keep them going. Meanwhile, their enemies the overwintering Queen wasps and hornets are killed off in large numbers by the cold and ice.
This year, we've had non-stop rain for weeks here in the south of England with twice the normal amount of rainfall compared to a normal year. But so far it's been very mild and we've barely had any frost to speak of, let alone snow and ice like last year. The current weather can be bad for bee colonies as they can start to become too active too early, consuming stores and attempting to forage flowers that might not have emerged yet. This can lead to a situation where colonies potentially run out of stored food before the main spring flowers appear. In addition, the constant damp eventually seeps through most wooden hives, increasing stress on the colony which can lead to outbreaks of Chalkbrood and Nosema as the bees try to generate enough heat to keep warm and dry.
Our polystyrene hives are completely impervious to the rain and help the colony stay warm and dry, meaning they use a lot less stores, don't get stressed and hopefully stay disease free. We also make sure each colony goes into winter with plenty of stored honey and pollen and also slip an open pack of sugar candy (the same stuff that goes on iced buns - yum!) on top of the frames just under the roof beneath a clear cover.
Every couple of weeks we go to the hives and peek under each roof, looking thorough the cover to see if they have eaten the candy. Any that have are clearly hungry and so we quickly replace empty packs and make a note to keep an eye on them until the spring. Those that leave the candy untouched clearly have sufficient stores lower down in the hive and can be left alone for a few more weeks.
This process works really well and has ensured that we have not lost a winter colony within the Bee Good apiaries in over five years, when many others report losses of 20% of their colonies each spring...