We are now past the winter solstice and when we get a break from this dreary wet, overcast, weather I expect to see some activity from my hives. The last sunny day we had (some time back) there was a lot of flying for about an hour in the early afternoon as bees stretched their wings. As January moves on, the bees normally start a little brood rearing in the centre of their winter clusters. However, the weather this autumn has been so mild that some hives of mine had little bursts of brood rearing right through into December. You can tell this is happening by monitoring the temperature of the bee cluster – I use a long probed digital kitchen thermometer. The non-brooding cluster will give a reading of around 10 – 11ºC at its edge and up to 25ºC at its centre, whereas the brooding cluster will show a central temperature of up to 35ºC.
One of the consequences of the warm weather, and the associated brood rearing, is that the bees use more stores than in cold weather. So keep an eye on those hives to make sure the bees are not running short. There are reports aplenty on the internet of beekeepers having to top up the winter stores of their bees this year. I have even put some fondant on my hives in the last couple of days as they were noticeably lighter than when I put them to bed in the autumn.