What Should be Happening in the Apiary in January?
I wanted provide a little insight into what should be happening for the beekeeper while the bees "Shiver" :).
We are now past the solstice by a month, and the bees know it. Even though it is still cold outside, the bees see the lengthening days and are preparing for Spring. This can be a dangerous time for them as the remaining cluster of bees consists of old bees and the resources are dwindling. Pollen and honey stores, critical to raising new bees, are being used up without new resources coming in. The hive is still using resources for keeping the colony warm, and now with brood rearing ramping up, they have to maintain a larger area of ~95 degrees. Hives commonly have 3-4 frames of brood by this time, and each frame can hold as many as 6,400 baby bees. That's a lot of honey and pollen....or baby food.
Weigh your hives: At least once per week, if your apiaries are nearby, you should be walking by your hives, and picking up a side to "weigh" them. Make notes on the top if you wish, notating "heavy", moderately heavy"...."light", or whatever system works for you. If you notice a hive that is considerably lighter than others, or see a rapid decline in the weight over a few weeks, you may need to intervene. This time of year, you can't feed liquid syrup in the hive as it introduces more deadly moisture into the hive. The only real solutions are to put in spare frames of honey that you held back, candy boards, or fondant. The bees can use the respiration moisture for liquefying the solid sugar. If you put in frames of honey, ensure it is warm, and that it is placed right next to the cluster (not in the middle of the cluster, and not one frame over).
Cluster size and location: On a day that is at least mid 40's, you can simple lift the lid, and look down through the hive. If you see daylight from the entrance, look closer, as there are a lot of frames that aren't covered. A cluster the size of a fist is probably doomed this time of year, and you need to save your combs. A cluster that is right against the lid has likely ran through their honey as European bees work upward through the honey.
Check for dead colonies: By simply walking by the hives, you can often tell a lot about the condition of the colony. Look at the entrances for dark debris which can often indicate a dead out. Intervene quickly in this case to prevent moths and beetles from ruining drawn comb. Drawn comb is priceless in the Spring.
Order and assemble supplies: I'm the world's worst for waiting until I need another super or two to assemble them. I don't know how often I assemble a box and frames and put it right on a colony. Don't do this. Estimate how many colonies you want to run for the year, and assemble, paint, and otherwise make ready, all the equipment you need now. It's a terrible feeling to see a swarm hanging 5 feet off the ground, and not having a box to put them in. In addition, foundation often becomes in short supply in the Spring. Don't wait until everyone is out before trying to order.
Order queens and/or nucs. If you are getting started or trying to make big increases, or and combination of other things, you may need to pre-order queens and/or nucs. By February, nucs and queens are often back ordered all the way to Summer. A word of caution on queens though....you don't have to get that first queen that can possibly be shipped to your area. If you are trying to ship queens in from the South in early March, they can get chilled in transit. In addition, conditions for raising queens improve as the weather warms, and bees want to swarm. These queens are better. Don't be too anxious to get them, and end up with an inferior or damaged queen. Also, buy locally if possible. This is a completely separate topic that I won't dive into, but hopefully for now, you'll take my word for it.
Red Maples are starting to bloom and provide some much needed resources on decent days, but still remain diligent.
Another good thing to work on is your knowledge. This is a great time to read a good book on beekeeping, as you are getting excited about the coming year. I'm reading "Increase Essentials", by Lawrence John Conner right now.
Lastly, get some sleep, and enjoy your family....long days await in the near future.