It’s getting warmer now but I still wear a sweatshirt while working in the garden. The temperature was a little bit above 50° F but the bees were all over the birdbaths, especially the heated one. I put a couple of stones in each birdbath for the bees to use as a landing and for small birds to enjoy taking a bath in a shallow area.
The bees seem to come for the water in the last few days. I’m not sure if they need water to soften sugar syrup they have taken in earlier which might have turned crystalized when the temperature dropped to below freezing in the last few nights. Or, they need to feed new lavae which, in this case, is a good sign. I don’t think cooling the hive is the reason at this time of year when the temperature is still below 60° F most days. Some of them prefer to get a drink from tiny droplets on grass.
The bees also serve as a reminder for me to clean birdbaths often. I know they can drink from any sources as long as it’s not toxic but seeing them drinking from a dirty source and taking it back to the hive just gives me a yucky feeling.
According to the calendar last Wednesday was still winter, but the weather was more like summer. The temperature had gone up above 80° F. I had a day off from work and because it was so nice outside I spent most of my day in the garden. I achieved my main priority: removing the winter insulation and inspecting our beehives.
I finished the first two large hives but debated on opening the smallest one. I wasn’t sure if the temperature will drop down below freezing again or not. My concern was that the little hive, which looks more like a nuc than a full hive, will not have enough bees to keep themselves warm if the temperature drops. But after observing them for a while, watching them fan the air into the hive to cool it, I removed their insulation as well.
I was happy to see that they all survived and still had plenty of stored honey, especially the main hive, #1.
They had been bringing in pollen, nectar and sugar syrup that I put out for them throughout the day. There was a pollen rush at certain point. Nothing much is blooming at this time except the Silver Maples (Acer saccharum) in the yard helping to supply them with plenty of pollen and nectar. I’ll put sugar syrup out for them until the Dandelions bloom.
Hive #2 also has a lot of food remaining in storage but a lot of combs are attached so I only removed a pair of them and let the rest stay attached. I will replace them after the bees have drawn all the honey from them. This hive exhibited another strange behavior, they chewed off wax at the bottom of each frame in the bottom super. Since the bottom super is usually empty at the end of winter, I replaced them with new frames instead of switching the supers.
The #3 hive that has the fewest bees, pulled through the winter well. This is the hive that had closed off the top entrance and left just a pin hole for the warm air to come out. The survivors are grouping in the middle of the hive straight up in both supers. I expect in order to keep warm with a small number of bees, staying in the middle of the hive helps. They are busy taking in sugar syrup and pollen now. Hopefully, the queen will do her duty and produce a bigger brood this coming season (otherwise she’ll be dethroned).
In one perfect day I managed to do all the beekeeping spring chores:
Remove winter insulation, both outside and inside
Inspection: looking for disease, mites, and sign of wax moths
Switch supers, move top to bottom and bottom to top
Change frames, if necessary
Feed the bees, with 1:1 sugar/water, to give them a head start when not much is blooming yet
I’m happy to find that they look healthy, disease free, so little mites and no wax moths. However they glued everything tightly with propolis and I had a hard time inspecting. There will be a lot of scraping when I have to change supers. But clean bees are happy and healthy bees.
Finally, a break last Sunday, great weather and I’m home. It was sunny, over 70°F, and no wind, a good day for opening up beehives for the first inspection. I have removed insulation from all hives and opened them up for the first time after five months. As I suspected, only hive#1 survived the winter. The other four hives were gone, one died of starvation and the other three froze to death. Even with the insulation, there was some crystalized sugar syrup that I had fed them in autumn remaining in the hives. The hives that starved still had capped honey in a corner but they apparently couldn’t get to it. We had a really bad winter this year, with temperatures that dropped as low as -11°F. I think I should go back to using 1.5 inch foam board as insulation.
But that one out of five hives survived is still better than nothing. They are pretty healthy too.
Aside from removing the insulation and inspection, I also switched the supers. The bees usually move upward in the hive. They pack the bottom super in fall and by the end of winter they cluster at the top super. That is why hive#1 has been using the top entrance. It’s much faster to go through the top than using the bottom entrance and climb up two flights. There were also plenty of dead bees on the screened bottom board which probably narrowed down their path to the outside world as well.
I felt so happy when I opened the cover up and found plenty of bees looking back at me. There are plenty of them in hive#1 with plenty of food. There were also new larvae. That was a sign that the queen is doing a good job. After switching the supers, I also removed the well used frames and replaced them with fresh ones. I cleaned the dead bees off the screened bottom board and replaced a corrugated mite count sheet. I will remove the mite count sheet when the weather is warm enough so the hive will have good air circulation
The bees were pretty mellow and busy taking nectar and pollen in. Not long after I closed the hive, they started using the bottom entrance as their main route into the hive. Once in a while some bees would take their load up to the top. I will keep the entrance at 1 inch until the temperature stays steady above 50°F to help them keep warm in the hive. See how busy honeybees are.
I’m debating whether to feed them sugar syrup since they are pretty busy taking in nectar and pollen. There are plenty of Maples, Alder and other trees and flowers around here beginning to bud. Well, to feed or not to feed? ‘That is the buzz.’