Winter Emergency Feeding

Just In Case…

It’s over 50°F again today and the honeybees came out of their hives even though it’s cloudy.  I observed them carrying out their dead and picked up a few for a closer inspection.  I found that dead bees from hive #2 have their tongues sticking out, a sign of starvation.  So I decided to open the hives for emergency feeding.

Dead bees from hive #2 with their tongues stuck out. Dead bees from hive#1 have no sign of this.

Even with heavy feeding last September, hive #2 still shows signs of depleted food storage.  I think either they were robbed then or new bees emerged during a few very warm days early this month to reduce the supply further.  As I mentioned in the previous post, hive#2 seemed to have more bees than hive #1 now.

I took my cue from them, even though it’s a cloudy day and the temperature is slightly over 50°F they still came out, so it’s ok to open the hives.  What I saw in both hives is very encouraging.

As soon as I opened the inner cover on hive #1 the bees come up to greet me. I looked inside, found plenty of capped honey combs. I decided to feed them anyway so I don’t have to open them again until spring.
There are many bees in hive #2 but they are down below in the middle super. There are a couple of empty frames in the top super. They crawled up to look at me.

After I saw inside hive #2, it confirmed my belief that I made the right decision in an emergency feeding today.  I don’t know when the next warm day will be and I don’t want to find too many starved bees by then.  Mid-winter emergency feeding can be done either with fondant (mixed sugar with high-fructose corn syrup), or granulated white sugar.  I tried to make fondant once but it didn’t come out well.  I didn’t want to buy the fondant either since most corn syrups are made from non-organic, GMO corn and there is no guarantee that the company I buy from uses quality ingredients.  So, I use granulated sugar.  It’s easy too.

  • I put a shim on top of the super to provide a little room between the sugar and the inner cover when re-placed on top.
  • Put a sheet of paper on top of the frames, either make a little cut in the middle or leave a gap.  I used plain natural packing paper, newspaper is fine too.
  • Pour white granulated sugar on top of the paper.  Level it down to a little bit lower than the shim height.  I put 3 pounds in each hive.
For hive #1, I cut a hole in the middle of the paper and poured sugar on it
For hive #2, I left a larger gap between the papers so they have more feeding space. This hive has less food left over than hive #1
More bees from hive#2 came up to inspect the sugar as soon as I poured it in
Put the inner cover back on top of the shim then put the top back on

I find that winter emergency feeding this way is fast and painless.  The moisture in the hive will rise up and condense which will help soften the sugar.  The bees will slowly feed on it.  They will chew the paper, which will be wet with moisture making it easy to chew off, and carry out of the hive.

I feel better now after feeding them.  I also removed dead bees off the screen bottom of hive #1.  I saw that bees from this hive had been using only the top entrance lately.  I checked the bottom entrance and found it blocked with dead bees, too many for the bees to carry out.  Once I cleaned out the dead, they started using the bottom entrance again.

Bees started coming in and out of the bottom entrance of hive #1 again

Hive #3 is confirmed dead.  There are plenty of dead bees and plenty of food left in the hive.  I think they froze to death when the temperature dropped to -5°F earlier in the season.  They were the smallest of the 3 hives.

Seesaw temperatures make it difficult for both bees and their keepers to maintain the health of the hives.  The bees wasted energy coming out in warm-mid winter weather with nothing to take back to the hive to replenish their stores.  Then they starve if not closely monitored.  In my earlier days of beekeeping, one of my hives died of starvation.  It wasn’t a good feeling to see them that way so I do my best not to repeat it again.






Mid-winter, A Warm Day

Cleaning Up

Today, January 23, the temperature rose up to 62°F and the rain stopped around noon.  Our honeybees from hives #1 and #2 came out to relieve themselves and get some fresh air.  Hive #2 went into winter with fewer bees than hive #1, but today, many more bees emerged as the population clearly has grown.

Honeybees from hive#2 on the bottom landing

It seemed more bees than from Hive#1.  With only a .75 inch entrance, there was a lot of traffic in front of the hives.  I managed to shoot a quick video of them

Some of the bees were taking their dead out.  Many of them flew off with the bodies but some of them just dropped the body right in front of the hive.  They have little hooks on the bottom of their feet that are non-articulating therefore difficult to manipulate, so I watched them struggling to dislodge the bodies.  From the clip below I counted eight bees that made the trip out with bodies.

One the one hand, I’m happy to see them alive and well after a couple of zero degree temp’s, but I’m afraid that they will run out of food before spring arrives.  The sad part of the day is that I don’t think hive #3 made it.  No one came out today.  There was one dead bee just inside the entranceway.  Probing the entrance with a twig will always bring a guard bee to investigate.  But this time it brought no live bee to investigate.  A very bad sign indeed.  Still, quoth the song; ‘two out of three ain’t bad.’


Happy About The Honeybees

They Survived

After a week of Arctic blast temperature here, we have a balmy 60°F temperature this morning though raining.  The rain will continue for the rest of the day and is expected to stop by Saturday morning.  But 60 degrees Fahrenheit is high enough for the honeybees to come out of their hives and start cleaning themselves.  This weekend the temperature is predicted to drop below freezing again.  After I looked at the thermometer on the patio, I promptly took an umbrella and cellphone out to the garden.  What I saw really made my morning.

Despite the rain outside, bees from hive 1 have come out to enjoy the 60 degree temp’.
Not many of them came out of hive 2 but enough to make me believe that they are alive in there.
I haven’t seen live bees in front of hive 3, just fresh dead bees, but someone had to take them out.

We’re so happy to see them pull through a brutally cold, -5°F some nights, and uneven temperatures throughout.  If they pull through this winter, the next generation will be more adaptable to the climate in our neighborhood.  My concern is hive 3, the smallest one.  There were a lot of dead bees in front of the hive when I checked on them the first time this winter.

Hive 3 on January 7th
January 7th, dead bees in the snow in front of hive 3

My consolation is that they have to have live ones to carry the dead out.  Even this morning, there are fresh dead bees on the landing.  I have hope for them.

At least two more months before spring comes, I hope they have enough food to last until then.  Heavy feeding since late summer should help.  In the meantime, the squirrels are making a lot of pockmarks in the lawn, digging up crocuses that we planted for the bees.

Happy Holidays

A Dandelion Wish

The dandelion flower tells us that life is short, delicate, and you never know where the winds may take you.  Irrespective of that, don’t forget to dream, wish, and remember the bigger joys that come from the little things in life.”  Anonymous

May you find peace.  May you find happiness.  May you find the key to unlock your dreams.  May your garden be abundant.  May your beehives prosper.  May you succeed in everything you do.  

All of this is within you, within your grasp, and from it may you find joy every day. 

Happy Holidays


Beekeeping In The Age Of Climate Change

I’m Keeping My Fingers Crossed

Losing all six hives last winter took the wind out of my sails.  I set up three new hives in spring but the weather has been uneven through the whole season.  The cold weather had lasted much longer than usual and the temperature has been seesawing from spring into autumn.  Some days we had 40°F in summer and 70°F in late November.  Heavy rain washed out flowers when there should have been plenty of them around at the time.  All in all our honeybees couldn’t build much honey storage this year.

When I inspected them in September, they barely had a full 8 frames in the super.  My gut told me I had better start feeding them.  I fed them from early September until the end of October when the temperature started to drop.  The total amount of sugar syrup I fed the hives amounted to around 4.4 gallons each.  I hope this helps them through the winter as the last inspection before closing them up showed they have plenty of food stored now.

Fed with sugar syrup, ratio 2:1 (sugar/water), in a 800 ml bottle each time
Covered with 2 inch foam board, leaving only 3/4 inch top and bottom entrance open
Then wrapped with an industrial-grade plastic bag. Fastened the hive with bungie cords.

I closed them up just in time as the temperature dropped down to below 20°F for a couple of nights.  I thought they should be fine for the winter, but the weather wasn’t on my side.  The temperature shot up to above 50°F for many days and one day, even above 70°F .  We’re talking about late November here.  The bees came out every warm day.  They even did their flight orientation.

November 25: warm & the honeybees came out. Some even did flight orientation

Nothing out there for them to bring back home since frost had killed most of the flowers, so they have to depend on their food supply in the hive.  I cannot feed them again without opening the winter cover and the bottom entrance.  I hope the temperatures stabilize to something more seasonal so they can just ball up in there.  I also hope the winter doesn’t drag on like the last one did.  We have done so much damage to this planet that we are starting to see the effect of our self-inflicted wounds every season.  I’ll do the best I can for the bees in my care and keep my fingers crossed.

Growing Crocuses

Try To Get A Natural Effect

We have a few days off for Thanksgiving and have spent most of our time grinding up leaves for mulch, fixing the deer fence to make sure there is no breach and planting crocuses and tulips.  Autumn is the time to put in spring crocus bulbs.  We put a couple of hundred bulbs in a year ago and love the way our lawn looks in spring.  This autumn we put 400 more bulbs in. I don’t really like growing anything ‘bulb’ because most of the time they become squirrel and chipmunk food.  However, taking our honeybees into consideration, I want to provide natural, early spring food for them.  Crocus is one of the flowers that bloom very early and have plenty of pollen and nectar.   They are also quite pretty and come in variety of colors.  They will disappear underground by the time other flowers start to bloom.

Crocuses blooming on the lawn in early April.  Since we mixed the bulbs, the colors are random.

I run out of space to put a lot of bulbs in so our lawn is the only place.  In order to make them look natural, I bought mostly mixed color bulbs.  I also bought individual colors of the larger variety and mixed them with the smaller ones.  Cast them on the lawn then planted them wherever they landed.  Last spring they came up before the lawn grew, creating a lovely natural effect.  Multi colors of crocus bloomed randomly in early April.  Unfortunately we lost all our hives last winter so the native bees had a great time.

Here’s a selection of spring crocus..

Deep yellow with maroon veins underneath
Lovely white
Dark purple
Yellow with a white edge
Lavender with a touch of white

I’m missing a couple of colors, either the bulbs rotted or they became our furry friends food.  We can hardly wait to see what our lawn will look like next spring.




Late Season Flowers

And Good For Pollinators Too

Aside from the beautiful fall foliage colors there’s not much color elsewhere.  Chrysanthemum seems to be abundant in autumn but I’m not a fan of it.  I associate it with mourning.  It’s commonly used in funerals and to arrange on a wreath.  So, I don’t plant chrysanthemum in our garden.  We still have plenty of choices for autumn blooming plants and many of them are good for pollinators as well.

I bought Alyssum seed only the first couple of years, now they just come up every year.  Cute little flowers that hug the ground, tolerate light frost and smell like honey as a plus.

White Alyssum seems to self sow much more commonly than the purple variety

Aster is one of the flowers that can lend a helping hand in autumn.  Both native bees and honey bees love it.

I group different colors of Aster together. The white one is a weed though, White heath aster

I put two Maximillion Sunflowers in the garden two years ago, now I have a growing patch of it.  It blooms when other sunflowers start to fade.  It’s a perennial so I don’t have to seed it every year but I will have to divide it next spring as the patch is getting too large for the space.

Flowers are great for pollinators and the finches love the seeds

Fall crocus is also a great pollinator food source.  I’ve seen some bees attempt to pry open the flowers before they have fully opened.

This crocus flowers in late summer and early autumn instead of spring

Moonflower will bloom from mid summer on.  If the weather is warm enough it will keep going.  Its large, white, fragrant flower blooms in the evening.  And, the flower is edible too.

I have this one trailing over our toolshed door.

Calendula is perfect for sunny spots and it self sows.  Its flower is edible as well.

It comes in shades of yellow and orange.

About weeds.  Many weeds are quite beautiful and provide pollen and nectar as well.  I make sure that they don’t overrun the garden.  Goldenrod, with it’s bright yellow flower is a great source of pollen and nectar in late autumn.  It will grow any place that the seeds drop, even between cracks.  I have to pull a lot of them out each spring, sprouting in the wrong place, and it’s the only work I have to do to keep it around.

Once it’s established in the garden it’s very difficult to get rid off. It’s much easier to confine it to one place by cutting spent flowers off so they won’t sprout all over the garden

I don’t know where the first White Heath Aster came from but it has settled in our garden now.  I don’t mind at all.  I just think of it as an aster that is waiting for humans to see its potential.  I do, especially when I see honeybees, Hover fly, Bumblebee and many other small local bees on it’s flowers.

White Heath Aster is just another aster that hasn’t received very many ‘likes’ yet

There are a few more late summer-autumn flowers that are easy to grow and good for pollinators I would like to mentioned.  Until next time.



New Hives

Starting Over Again After Six Years

We still can’t figure out what happened to our honeybees.  They were gone, without a trace last winter.  There was plenty of honey still stored in each hive but just a few dead bees in there, most of them were young bees.  There was no foul smell in any of the hives and the frames looked clean.  After six years of tending them, they were gone in one season.  We also haven’t seen very many wild bees lately either.  So far just some Carpenter bees and Mason bees.  Not even a Bumblebee.

We think we might have been hit either by the CCD (Colony-collapse Disorder) or Zombees (Apocephalus borealis) but it could be anything at this point.  As discouraged as we are we won’t give up.  We received three new packages of bees to start over with.  The first two came in mid-April but we had to keep them in their boxes for a few more days after we received them.  The weather wasn’t on our side to hive them, either raining, too cold or to windy.  We sprayed sugar syrup on the screens a few times a day to keep them well fed while they remained confined.  We were finally able to hive them on April 23, freedom at last.

The first two packages, we were so happy to see them
Anxious to get out
Poured them in the super after attaching the queen box. I kept the corrugated sheet under the base to keep them warm since the weather is still on the cold side.
Added a top tray feeder filled with sugar syrup. I adapted this tray feeder by adding fine screen mesh on top of the floating bars to prevent bees drowning. It works very well.
Two new hives. I left the empty packages in front of the hive so the bees that are still in the box can find their way to new home

We did the first inspection of these two new hives ten days later, May 2nd.  Each hive had freed their queens and built comb.  Both top tray feeders were empty.  There was some pollen as well.  We couldn’t see the queens but didn’t want to stress them further by searching for her.  Over all there are good signs that they have settled in to their new homes.  We removed the top tray feeders and changed to bottle feeders instead because they had built comb between the feeder gap and inside one of the feeders.

It’s a beautiful sight to see on the first inspection. Bees are busy building combs and some pollen.
Very busy at the entrance

It’s been raining almost everyday with the temperature hovering a little above 50°F on the days that we are home.  As a result, since the 1st inspection, we haven’t have a chance to check on their feeders again.  I think we will have to continue feeding them until the weather condition is improved.

The third package came in on May 5th and I was able to hive them that evening.  This particular package is much calmer than the first two, maybe because they weren’t in confinement for a long time like the first two packages.

The third hive

Hopefully these three new hives will survive the season.  My fear is not just the CCD now but the commercial elimination of mosquitos and ticks that is encroaching into the neighborhood.  Any sensible person knows that spraying insecticide will not just kill mosquitos and ticks but all insects that come into contact.  But advertisement and convenience seem to trump commonsense.  So we set the new hives further inside our property and will keep our fingers crossed.

Spring Has Sprung

…With A Cold Shoulder

I took the day off from work yesterday and the weather was on my side.  Still plenty of snow on the ground but the temperature had soared to nearly 60°F.  The honeybees should have been out and about now with a temperature this high, but alas, none to be seen.  So I decided to inspect one hive.  Intrinsically I knew I had to face my fear somehow.  It’s better to know early than not know at all.  I suspected they may have died of starvation since the weather has been inconsistent.  That forces the bees to consume their stored food faster leaving them with nothing inside and nothing for them to forage outside.  But I wasn’t expecting what I saw.  There were no bees in the hive.  None at all.

I ended up opening all the hives.  My worst fear had come true.  There were only a few dead bees in each hive which was otherwise empty.  There were plenty of capped and uncapped honey frames in each hive but no live occupants.

First sadness hit, then depression, then self-doubt….what did I do wrong?  I’ve been taking a mite count throughout the season and it’s been very low.  We provided clean water.  We provided food, with the supporting evidence of plenty left over in each hive. The only thing I did not do was treat them with chemicals.  But I have never treated them from the start.  They were fine and happy for many years, from one generation to the next, living their lives naturally.

I’m still sad and depressed but giving up is not in my nature.  I will clean up the empty hives on my next day off and have them readied for new occupants.  New honeybee packages are coming in next month and I hope we will work well together like their long gone relatives.

But there was a bright part of the day…I finally dug my way to the igloo, my cold frame.  What was left in there were carrots, Mustard greens, a few Pac choi too.  The lettuce I had sown in January had come up, barely reaching half an inch.

The path I had to dig to get to the cold frame
Pulled some fresh carrots from inside the cold frame. Small but tasty.

I pulled weeds out, watered the soil a little and sowed a few more seeds: Mizuna, Mustard greens, Radish, Arugula, Chinese broccoli, and more lettuce.  They should start to sprout in a week and within a couple more weeks I can have my first salad of the season.

Sowed some seeds after pulling carrots and clearing some dead vegetables

Our resident Eastern Bluebirds are also looking for a nest box in our yard and haven’t given up despite harassment from the House sparrow.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds enjoy their meal and keep their eyes on their prospect home

As the Buddhists say, ‘all is impermanence.’  There will be more honeybees.  The garden is still there and this year’s seedlings are all sprouting high in the house and itching to get their feet in the ground outside.  I really can’t complain.


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