Honey Bee In Winter

Never Been So Happy To See Dead 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.

Each hive is wrapped up with insulation and industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorbtion
Each hive is wrapped up with insulation and industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorbtion
With snow piled up on top and on the ground.  The black spots on the snow in front of the hive are dead bees
With snow piled up on top and on the ground. The black spots on the snow in front of the hive are dead bees
Frozen bee
Frozen bee

Not Finished Swarming

The Third Swarm

The first hive swarmed again on the morning of June 7.   This is the third time within a month for this hive.  I think I should start naming the hives since I’m going to have five of them, and maybe more if they keep on swarming.  I didn’t expect to have this many hives since our property is not big, though we have plenty of woodland nearby.

I did my usual walk around the garden in the morning when I encountered the swarm.  First I just saw a few bees flying on top of the Wisteria but when I inspected closely I realized that they had already balled up on the branches.  I grabbed the same old cardbord box I used to catch the previous swarm, water spray bottle and tried my best to set up a base to put them in prior to disturbing them.

The third swarm from the first hive balled up on the lower branches of Wisteria
The third swarm from the first hive balled up on the lower branches of Wisteria

I didn’t have a full set of hive equipment left and the new order was still in transit.  Luckily, I still have one old base that I didn’t have time to sand and coat, a winter inner cover, a regular cover and an empty super.  I sealed off an opening in the middle of the winter inner cover and set it on the old base as a bottom board and then put an empty super on top.  I closed the middle opening of a regular inner cover with a screen for air flow to keep the bees from getting in or out, and to get it ready to be used as an inner cover.

Then I woke my partner in beekeeping up to help me cut the Wisteria branches down. This swarm was the easy one because it balled up on lower branches that we could cut and drop into the box.  The fun part was shaking the bees into the empty super.  The majority of them just dropped in but there were still plenty of them flying around.   Once I saw that some bees were trying to get inside through the top screen, I knew I had the queen in there.  I opened the plug at the bottom to give the outside bees access and it was like a vacuum sucking the bees in.

With a screen on top, the wandering bees can smell the queen and try to get in.  As soon as I opened the bottom entrance, they just poured in.
With a screen on top, the wandering bees can smell the queen and try to get in. As soon as I opened the bottom entrance, they just poured in.

The equipment came in a few days later.  We opened both boxes that the swarms had settled in and put frames in, then changed the base and cover.  Both hives had already built large comb attached to the inner covers and were somewhat annoyed as we replaced their furnishings.  I had linen pants on and managed to get stung a couple of times on the legs.  They have settled in now but the weather has not been on their side in the last couple of days, pretty damp, cool and cloudy.  I’m debating whether I should feed them.

Hive 4, from the second swarm on June 3, has built comb under the inner cover with some honey and pollen.  I felt so guilty having to scrape them off.
Hive 4, from the second swarm on June 3, has built comb under the inner cover with some honey and pollen. I felt so guilty having to scrape them off.
Hive 5, from a swarm on June 7, has also built up comb but with less nectar and pollen. I couldn't believe how fast they can build. This is only three days work for them.
Hive 5, from a swarm on June 7, has also built up comb but with less nectar and pollen. I couldn’t believe how fast they can build. This is only three days work for them.

The good news is my lovely neighbor has offered to house one of the hives providing I look after it for her.

 

Bee Swarm

Start A ‘Beezy’ Season

We came out of winter with two out of three hives having survived.  One hive was wiped out by starvation.  Then one of the surviving hives was attack by skunks.  It was the smallest hive that I didn’t think would pull through the harsh winter.  I was really discouraged and guilty too, as a matter of fact, by the whole situation.  I fed both surviving hives as soon as the weather permitted, one gallon of sugar syrup each, and hoped for the best.   Once they started foraging, I stopped feeding them.

On the morning of May 20, with high temperatures and plenty of sunshine, the first hive swarmed.   I caught just a few of them and set up a new super to house them.  The swarm prompted me to do a complete inspection of both hives right away.  The second hive, smallest of the two, had a healthy population, though not plentiful.  I couldn’t find the queen but there are some larvae in there.  No mites, no moths, so I left it alone.

The first swarm, while some were flying around, the majority of them gathered in front and under the hive
The first swarm, while some were flying around, the majority of them gathered in front and under the hive

The first hive is the problematic one.  After the swarm, there were still plenty of bees in the hive, too many and too crowded.  I decided to take two brood frames with one queen cell attached (wasn’t sure I got the queen from the swarm) and two honey frames from this hive to help the bees I caught from the swarm set up their new colony.  I closed all entrances with screen and locked them in for a day in their new home.

I replaced what I have taken from the first hive with new unused frames to provide more room.  A couple of days later they acted like they wanted to swarm again.  So, I decided to split the colony to prevent them from swarming.  I took a whole super with two queen cells (more mature cells than the first one I had taken) and some brood frames and bees from the first hive and combined them with the new hive.  If everything goes as planned, the first queen that hatches will kill off the other two.

I've taken the bottom super from the first hive.  The middle super is the swarm I caught, with a piece of newspaper in between to make sure that they merge well by let them chew through slowly.  The top super is empty, just used to cover a top feeder.  I also closed the top entrance with screen so the weaker swarm bunch won't get robbed but they can still go in and out from the entrance between them and the super below.
I’ve taken the bottom super from the first hive. The middle super is the swarm I caught, with a piece of newspaper in between to make sure that they merge well by let them chew through slowly. The top super is empty, just used to cover a top feeder. I also closed the top entrance with screen so the weaker swarm bunch won’t get robbed but they can still go in and out from the entrance between them and the super below.
The third hive now, with the newspaper, shim and top feeder out.  They get along well and are busy foraging.
The third hive now, with the newspaper, shim and top feeder out. They get along well and are busy foraging.

Back to the first hive, I added a queen excluder and a new super on top of it.  I also opened the entrance completely for better airflow.  So now this hive has a whole new eight frame super on top of the queen excluder plus four new frames in the brood chamber, and the entrance is also wide open.  I thought I had done enough for them but I guess Her Majesty thought otherwise.

They swarmed again on June 3rd.  This swarm was larger than the first one.  I caught most of them, again wasn’t sure I had the queen.  If someone tells you that getting a swarm from the lower bush is easier than from a tree branch, keep in mind that it’s not always true.  It suggests that the person has never experienced retrieving a swarm from a thorny rose bush.

This is a rehearsal swarm in the morning, 20 feet up on a maple tree. They got back to the hive before the actual swarm to a lower rosebush in the afternoon
This is a rehearsal swarm in the morning, 20 feet up on a maple tree. They got back to the hive before the actual swarm to a lower rosebush in the afternoon

I house them temporarily in one of the empty super’s with my last remaining frame in it.  No cover either, I’m using a piece of wood and two bluestone pieces to weight it down.  Hopefully, an order for new equipment will arrive soon before they start building comb on the inner cover.  I don’t want to feel guilty for having to destroy their hard work.  It would also be a little set back for the bees as well, to have to build the whole thing all over again, albeit, I am providing them with a beeswax foundation in each frame.

This is a rehearsal swarm in the morning, 20 feet up on a maple tree. They got back to the hive before the actual swarm to a lower rosebush in the afternoon
I’m housing the second swam with what I have, a base, screen bottom board, a super, one frame and a wooden board as a roof. They’re busy bringing in pollen and nectar now.

 

 

Honey Bees In Late Winter

Signs Of Life

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.

After the last snow finally reached the landing
After the last snow finally reached the landing
The third hive with a little hole in the snow by the top entrance
The third hive with a little hole in the snow by the top entrance
Up close on one of the hives.  Heat from the bees has opened it.
Up close on one of the hives. Heat from the bees has opened it.

Wintering the Bees

My Way of Wintering the Bees

This is my first winter as a beekeeper.  I’m trying my best to help my bees survive through the winter.  There is a lot of conflicting information out there about wintering the hive, especially, when it comes to insulating the hive.  One apiarist suggested that it’s not necessary to insulate the hive in winter since it will confuse the bees and make them take more stored food than they usually do if they are left alone.  Another suggested that insulating the hive is a good idea because the bees will not have to work too hard to keep the temperature warm inside the hive.  Since they don’t have to work their wings that hard,  they will take less food.

The same goes for treating the bees for Varroa mites; some folks recommended doing it but some did not.  Just keeping the bees healthy and well fed is enough.  Healthy bees and a clean hive will be able to fight all and will produce a stronger next generation.

I try to get as much information on beekeeping as possible, conflicting or not, then pick and choose to use what makes sense for my hive.  I don’t treat my hive for mites since they were pretty healthy when I last checked before closing the hive for the winter.  They were well fed as well.  I also think that there are not very many hives in this area; the population is not as condensed which makes it harder for parasites and diseases to transmit from hive to hive.

Hive wrapped with 2" insulating foam
Hive wrapped with 2″ insulating foam

I decided to insulate the hive since I know how harsh winter can be in my neighborhood.  The bees I started the hive with also came from the south, Georgia, and they are Italian bees which don’t usually do well in a very cold winter.  I put 2″ of insulation foam board on four sides and the roof, left open just the main entrance, upper entrance and a small ventilation hole on top.

After almost a week of frigid temperatures, with daytime temperatures hovering around 3° F-5° F and a wind chill factor that took it down to -5° F at times, I’m very glad I insulated my hive.  There are some dead bees on the ground in front of the hive and some in the snow further away.  I guess the ones on the snow are the bees that flew out to die so they won’t burden the undertaker bees who have to push the dead out of the hive.

The temperature was up to 45° F today and the sun came out once in a while.  I checked to see whether everything was still intact with the hive.  To my surprise, a couple of bees flew out.  I checked the foam board under the hive for mites and there were very few of them.

Bee on snow. Gone to 'Hive Heaven' as it were.
Bee on snow. Gone to ‘Hive Heaven’ as it were.

One thing that may work for the benefit of my hive is that the queen was born in our garden.  From what I’ve read, the hive will most likely survive the winter if the queen was born here, not brought in from radically different zone.  The original Italian-Georgian queen I started the hive with flew away with half the hive when they swarmed back in July.

They are doing alright so far.  Hopefully, they will survive the winter and build a strong hive this coming spring.

November Garden

After being Beat Up By Two Storms

A little over a week after Hurricane Sandy rolled over our area, a Nor’easter rolled right in and brought us 6″ of snow over night.  After the storm cleared, the temperature slowly creeped up to mid 60° F, and then the rain hit today.  Not much left of the garden, really.  Some leaves are still holding on to the branches, refusing to give up.  Our honey bees seemed to enjoy the 60 degree day.  They came out en mass, from what I’ve learned, to clean themselves.  Some of them even came back to the hive with pollen.  I have no idea where they got the pollen from.  Our half-spent ‘Heritage’ rose is the only thing blooming in the garden at this time, and the bees fought over it.

I moved my fuzzy pet, a Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar, outside so he can hybernate properly.  Lesson learned from last year when the Black Swallowtail emerged on our office desk in early winter with nothing much to eat.  This time I’m letting the weather direct the metamorphoses process by leaving the caterpillar outside, but I check on him once in a while.

Nothing much to do now aside from feeding the birds, taking care of the tropical plants in the basement, leafing through plant catalogs and planning for the next season.

Three bees fighting over what’s left of this half-spent rose ‘Heritage’
The honey bees came out to clean themselves when the temperature rose above 60 degrees last Sunday. I’ve stapled chicken-wire over the entrance as a mouse guard.
Some Japanese Maple leaves still hang on tightly to the branch. When I see something like this, I wish for snow or frost. The leaves would look great with it.
The birds, especially the American Goldfinch, did a pretty good job in cleaning up the seeds from the Echinacea.
Took this photo when the rain paused for a few minutes today. Droplets on young Iris leaves.

First Round. Hurricane Sandy 1, Neighborhood 0.

After ‘Sandy’ Left

Hurricane ‘Sandy’ hit the northeast coast of the US last Monday, October 29.  The eye of the storm made land fall on the New Jersey shore to be exact, but the effect of it is wide spread.  In Lower Manhattan, from 34th street down, lost power that Monday night and most of the area just gained it back the following Saturday.  Further in land where we live, there were many trees down and we lost power and cable on that Monday and didn’t get it restored until Saturday afternoon.  The sky started to clear on Tuesday afternoon, but the clean up process will last much longer.

Luckily, all our trees are safe from high winds though our neighborhood was, and in many areas, still littered with fallen trees.  I had prepared for the worst case scenario: taken all the birds feeders down, brought a lot of firewood in under the roof, took anything that could fly off with high wind inside and tied down the beehive to concrete blocks.  Once ‘Sandy’ had gone, I did some surveying…

A pine tree was uprooted along the roadside leading to where we live.
A power pole broken in half and blocking the road.
Our beehive was left standing despite a whole section of the fence right behind it having been blown off. I actually laughed at this.