For all of the stuff that you are able to get done during the winter, there is also a downside to the season.
A few weeks ago we finally had a warm, sunny day - mid-60s! I have been worried about my honey bees since Fall. this was my chance to open the hives up and see who was still alive and kickin'. Our losses were heavy. Out of the 12 hives I was managing (including two at the Early College)... I have three still alive. Plus all of the nucs (half-colonies) are dead. The nucs were not too surprising, but the others... ouch! My inspection indicate that none of the hives starved. They all had plenty of food - one colony even had a full super of honey (that's over 50 pounds of honey)! Apparently they all just froze in place. At least that is my best guess. It was a sad day in the Stockbridge Apiary.
So how do you proceed with that kind of loss? Our first beekeeper's meeting was a few days after my inspection. It makes me feel a little better that almost everyone had heavy losses. Winters have been so mild over the last several years that the colonies that winter normally would have killed off survived. Until this year. It seems like all of those colonies died this year when they should have succumbed to cold in previous winters. True natural selection at work. One of the beekeepers in the club pointed out that the colonies which have survived this winter are the strong ones that we should be using to rebuild our fleets.
The current plan for rebuilding the apiary is to order two packages of bees to help fill the empty hive boxes more quickly. Then I will see how my surviving colonies are doing when spring truly arrives and see about splitting them early in the seasons so they can build up their populations as early as possible. This year will be mostly about rebuilding the apiary - any honey harvest that comes in will be a bonus in my mind. Our customers from last year will be disappointed, but there are no guaranteed results in agriculture.