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.
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.
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.
We have over a foot of snow on the ground and it is threatening to drop another 8 to 10 inches this weekend. The snow itself is not bad for the honey bees but the frigid cold that follows may wipe out our hives. We have seen a few days and nights of single digit temperatures this winter and today is barely above ten degrees fahrenheit.
As tightly as I have wrapped all hives with insulation, this winter is unusually colder than normal so I am keeping my fingers crossed. It was a little bit warmer two days ago, above 30ºF, and not windy. Yesterday I decided to wade through snow up to my knees to check on the hives. I know that if it’s warm enough outside, no matter how high the snow gets, the bees will come out. So I was looking for that sign of death outside the hive that would indicate life inside the hive.
Two out of five hives had some dead bees on the snow in front of the hives. The other three had no sign of activity. I’m so glad to see these dead bees on the snow. It’s an indication that the hive is alive. There have to be a live bees in the hive to carry the dead bees out. But I haven’t give up on the other three hives yet. They may be trying to conserve energy, staying tightly together to pull through the winter. I won’t know until the end of March or mid-April or when it is warm enough to open the hives for inspection and feeding. At this point they are necessarily on their own.
This winter is erratic and harsher than usual. The temperature swings this season have been like a trampoline. From below zero to 5oº F. in just two days recently. We have had plenty of snow this year; around two feet in the last two weeks alone. My friends and colleagues have been asking about our bees. They know I’ve wrapped the hives up pretty well but this winter has been different from previous years.
I didn’t really know how the bees were faring in their hives, but after yesterday’s snow the accumulation reached the hive landing, so I decided to check on them. I found a few dead bees on the snow, one or two of them still alive, barely and it was 40º F. so I don’t know why they were out. I wonder if they know they are dying and don’t want to burden their comrades to carry them out after death, so they willingly leave the hive when they still can. Or, they mis-calculate the temperature outside which is very unlikely.
It’s too cold to open the hive at this time but the sign that there are live bees in there is a little open hole in the snow covering the upper entrance. The bees need to regulate the temperature in the hive and keep it warm enough for their comfort. The warm air they create rises up and comes out through the top entrance. It wouldn’t be that easy for me to figure out if there weren’t any snow. That little hole keeps my hopes up.
A snow storm hit us again today, starting about 5:00 AM. It was very peaceful because no one was out, the town plows didn’t bother to come around early and not a snow blower in sight. It was the type with big fluffy flakes falling down early on then became very light rain before stopping in late afternoon. It dumped close to a foot of snow today, adding to the foot still here from the previous Wednesday. We now have a three foot snow bank along our driveway and higher mounds here and there. And, there’s more to come tonight. The weather forecast is predicting the second round of this Nor-Easter tonight may add another 8″ to 10″ more.
As soon as the snow stopped the neighborhood came out in force cleaning their driveways and getting them ready for the next onslaught tonight. We had to rake some of the snow off our roof as it is thick and heavy and makes it difficult to open the sliding door. During all these chores, we were accompanied by plenty of birds doing their best to pack as much food in as they could to brace for the storm. The Chickadees and Carolina Wrens didn’t even care that we were raking the roof; they just flew in and out picking on seeds at the feeders by the patio.
Our beehives have only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board and the bottom entrance. We were lucky that we decided to put the hives on 3 foot risers off the ground, otherwise half of the hives would have been buried under the snow by now. I know the bees would be fine if that had happened because they still have the upper entrance that keeps air flowing. They will be able to come out through the snow for their cleansing flights anyway, even if snow covered both entrances. The hot air they create in the hive melts little holes in the snow where the entrances are.
Only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board. Both lower and upper entrances are covered with snow. When I inspected them after the last snow fall, they had small tunnels behind the snow that opened up to the left and right of these little mounds. Once I saw them I left the snow alone so it can block the cold and wind from getting in the hives.
A few more weeks to go before spring reaches us, but more snow to be expected. On the bright side, we need all the extra water. And, if the bees pull through this harsher than usual winter, we will have a very strong generation of honey bees for our garden. Bees that can weather temperatures below 0ºF in a very erratic winter.
It’s mid February and mounds of snow are piled up all over the place, the residue of blizzard ‘Nemo’. I have no idea how the bees are doing inside the hive at this point. After each snowstorm I make sure that snow or other debris doesn’t block the hive’s entrances, both upper and lower. Aside from checking the entrances I also look for:
Dead bees. Dead bees in front of the hive or on the snow nearby indicate that there are still bees, alive and well, in the hive. I’ve seen a few of them after each snowfall. I’ve never been so happy to see dead bees until this winter. One day I even saw an undertaker bee taking a body out.
Varroa mites (Varroosis). Though I don’t treat my bees for Varroa mites, I check for it weekly just to keep a record. A corrugated foam sheet is inserted under the screen bottom board to make it easier to do the count. Not many mites so far, actually way below the maximum allowed. According to Beekeeper’s Handbook by Diana Sammataro &Alphonse Avitabile, more than 50 mites a day is considered high (amount of mites divided by amount of days the sheet was under the board)
Wax residue. Tiny wax particles on the corrugated foam sheets under the bottom board is a sign that new cells were uncapped either for food or a new generation and there were some pale brown wax bits every time I checked.
That’s all I know from observation outside the hive. It seems fine, but I don’t know if they will have enough food to last until they can forage again.
One blogger, mylatinnotebook, has recommended that I feed bees fondant. Aside from leaving them a lot of honey, I also fed them a few gallons of sugar syrup before I closed the hive in autumn. But, as a newbie, I am willing to follow all recommendations I get as long as it doesn’t involve feeding them chemicals.
I made four packs of fondant over a week ago but the weather has been too cold to open the hive and feed the bees until today. The hive shouldn’t be opened for feeding if the temperature is below 40°F, or with rain or high wind. Today is 42°F, sunny with a little bit of wind so I cracked open the roof to peek in.
I took one pack of fondant out of the freezer and let it warm up a little bit. It wouldn’t stay solid. It softened to a thick syrup first and then started to stiffen up again. I couldn’t put it directly on the frames so I put it on the winter cover and fold the wax paper under to make a border. I checked the foam sheet 20 minutes later and saw some fondant on the sheet so I opened the hive again and put a plastic lid as a ring around the feeding hole to prevent more of it running out through the frames.
Opening the hive the second time, I found the bees were eating the dried fondant that dripped on the frame and some of them came up to eat on the inner cover. There were also uncapped honey frames present. I insulated the hive enough and the daytime temperature in the next couple of days will be around 40°F they should be able to come up to the inner cover.
They looked happy (as much as you can tell from a bee) and liked the fondant even though it may not have been up to ‘bee’ standards. I’ll have to practice making it, maybe with a different recipe.
There is still a month or so of winter left here but the bees have survived through hurricane ‘Sandy’, blizzard ‘Nemo’, and single digit temperatures with wind factors below 0°F, so they most likely will pull through this winter.
Let’s see how they are when I feed them next time.