This part of East Tennessee has had more than 15 inches of rain since the first of November (and more on the way this week) and warmer than average temperatures so far this winter.

Is this good or bad for the bees?

Is there anything we could or should be doing about it?

We asked some of our more experienced beekeepers to weigh in on the subject, and the following are the response we received:

Charlie Parton:

Best case is that colonies should go into winter in good shape i.e.. plenty of stores, lots of bees to keep the cluster going and well ventilated. Colonies in this condition seem to doing well in spite of the abundant moisture and warm days which allow the bees to fly more that normal.

The warm days will result in the colony to start rearing brood early which will deplete food stores. The best advice is to check your bees about every two weeks to feed or determine if food is needed and make sure they stay dry, lid blowing off etc. A word of caution: feeding bees which have plenty of food can result in early build up and swarming. Remember maples, henbit and the like will start blooming in February.

Coley ODell:

With the rain and the milder temperatures that we have experienced so far this winter, it  can be a curse or a blessing, depending on how you manage your bees.

First would be the blessing, as smaller colonies will have a better chance of surviving then if we had a long stretch of colder temperatures in the Spring.  The beekeeper has to make sure the bees have enough of food stores for them to move to.  With the milder temperatures, the bees will build up quicker in the Spring because the Queen has started laying quicker in late January and February, which would mean early swarms.  With all the rain in winter there should be plenty of moisture and ground water,which would be a good nectar flow for Spring.

Now for the curses. In the past two years we have had out breaks of European foul brood in some East Tn counties including Blount.  According to our state apiarist and other researchers, they contribute  that to winter weather.  Another problem is with mold and fungus  growing in the hives, especially with beekeepers using solid bottom boards.  Some ideas that the beekeepers can use is to make sure their hives are slanted forward enough for any water to run off the hive and not into it.  Make sure they have adequate ventilation.

As far as feeding bees, with this type of weather, we need to monitor strong hives for depletion of their food supply.  With the weak hives, we need to make sure they do have feed, but to use caution in feeding any hives with these milder temperatures; so as not to stimulate brood rearing too early.  We need to keep leaves and debris away from the hives so that it does not breed mold and mildew.  You can also check top covers and holes in the woodenware where moisture might get in.

Doug Hardwick:

My take is that since the temperatures are mild, and the bees are flying almost every day they are going to be using more food stores than usual, we need to be very attentive to that. Several feeding methods are ok.

I’ve been experimenting with a pattie made of sugar, syrup and pollen substitute. I also plan on doing a mite treatment in a couple of weeks, and a nosema treatment.

I have noticed condensation in my hives, even with the a spacer between the inner cover and outer cover. Need to pay attention to that especially if anyone’s outer covers are on tight. I am also hoping that all of this rain is going to make for extra healthy plants and lots of spring flowers — that will probably get killed by a late freeze. That wasn’t very positive was it?

Thanks, guys. We appreciate all the good information.

Note: The average rainfall for January is 4.84 inches. To date, we have received 5.67 inches, and there is more in the forecast.

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