The answer? Pretty much nothing.
Well, it's not 100% nothing. We did treat them for varroa mites for a month before it got too cold. Varroa mites are the bane of a bee's existence. And a beekeeper's too. The mites are these horrendous tiny parasites (tinier than bees, obviously), with which all hives in the US are afflicted, but if the population gets too high, they'll kill an entire colony! So we treated for mites, and then this past weekend went into the hive to remove the strips we used.
While in there, we got to see that our girls had a nice population going, and a bunch of full frames of honey in the top hive box. We gave them some pollen and fondant to eat anyway, wished them well, and closed 'er back up.
That's it 'til spring, folks! Now we just keep our fingers crossed that they make it through the winter, which here in NJ promises to be another brutally cold one, and see in the spring how they've fared.
In the meantime, the bees take care of themselves. They've already kicked out their drones (the males, which are useless to them through the winter months when queens aren't mating and food - honey - is limited). As it gets colder, the workers huddle in a ball around their queen, moving around the hive in sync to maintain body heat while they eat all the honey they've made throughout the spring and summer. As long as there's enough honey to sustain them (plus the bit of fondant and pollen we provided), they should be ok when we check on them in the spring. Through this whole time, they don't leave the hive. Believe it or not, that also means that they don't go to the bathroom! Bees are exceptionally clean critters and will not go to the bathroom in the hive. Imagine all those little crossed legs!
If we do have an unseasonally warm day, one of those weird. sunny, 66 degree February days, the girls may come on out to relieve themselves and forage a bit. If we can, we'll take the opportunity to get them some more fondant before spring. If not, they're on their own.
Wish our girls luck! Fingers crossed that they'll come through well and be all ready for the forsythia and dandelion blooms!
'Cause if they're healthy then? It means honey for us in July!