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 got a break one day last week. The temperature has gone up to a little bit above 40ºF for a day, actually for a few hours. Then it dropped back down to below freezing again a day later. But just a few hours was enough to create activity at one of the hives.
Honeybees from hive #1, the strongest of all five hives, came out from the top entrance. Many of them flew around and did some cleaning after have been cooped up in the hive for months. Some old bees that knew it’s the end of their time have come out to die on the snow in front of the hive.
That was the only hive that became active that day, the other four hives remained quiet. I’m so glad that they survived -9ºF. I don’t know if any of the other hives still have a live cluster of bees in inside. They may try to conserve their energy and keep warm in there as a low 40ºF is not an ideal temperature to come out in, anyway. If the temperature reaches above 50ºF for a day or two and still no bee activity from these quiet hives that will mean they are gone. There is no guarantee that the one active hive will pull through either since the temperature has dropped even further, down to -11ºF the following two days. Hopefully only a few more weeks of winter to go.
But I’ll be happy if one out of five hives pulls through this harsh winter.
Not just bees took to the air that day. It was sunny as well as warm, so plenty of birds were around including a bird of prey. A Cooper’s hawk probably saw a conglomeration of fresh food coming around. I watched him chasing birds into a Barberry hedge where he got caught several times tangling his wings and feet. At one point in the afternoon he landed on the pool fence and sat there looking for anything that might move on the patio. He reminded me of a young hawk some years ago that used to wait in ambush on the woodpile on the patio, outside our kitchen window. He realized that he was in shadow on the woodpile. By the time a small bird saw him there, it was too late.
Today was a perfect day. The temperature reached 60ºF, sunny and no wind. I was lucky to be home and used the opportunity to clean up part of the garden. I don’t worry much about the plants since I know that most of them are either native or very cold-hardy. What I’ve been anxious about is the honey bees.
Most information I came across agreed that the Italian honey bees don’t do well in a very cold climate. Last winter was exceptionally cold throughout the US and the North, where I live, the temperature dipped down to -4ºF at one point. Add a few feet of snow and a wind chill factor and it was the coldest winter that I can recall. I held my breath for the bees since there was nothing I could do but wait. Through the whole winter, every time the temperature rose above 50ºF, I would go out to see whether there were any dead bees in front of the hives. If there were, that meant there were still live bees inside to carry the dead out. It’s sad to see but good to feel seeing dead bees because it’s the only sign of life I can count on when I can’t open the hive.
I know today is a perfect day to determine whether they are dead or alive. By 1 pm, the temperature rose to 55ºF, the bees came out in droves from the first hive. They started with their cleansing flight and some began to take their dead comrades out. Then I saw something that made me happier…some of them were bringing back pollen! I have no idea where they were getting pollen from. Trees around here are still bare, only Maples have started to bud. I hope they didn’t raid pollen from porch flowers around the neighborhood. From what I know, flowers from big-box stores are loaded with pesticide. I don’t want them to end up dead after they pulled through such a tough winter.
Then the third hive, the smallest one, appeared. I didn’t expect them to survive as they were the weakest with the least honey in storage. But they did. The majority of them seemed to like using the top entrance. The ones that came back with pollen had difficulty climbing up to the entrance so I put a piece of broken clay pot in as a ramp.
The second hive seems to be gone. Nothing stirred and nothing I can do about it now. I will open it up on my next day off from work. I’ll leave the foam insulation on the surviving hives until the temperature has stabilized. I’ll leave some sugar water hanging by the patio for them, far enough from both hives so they won’t be robbed. I’ll let them do what they do best. I’ll let them be bees.