Tag Archives: beekeeping in winter

Spring Is Coming

And It Will Not Be a Good One

We came back from our vacation to a sharp drop in temperature.  Our friends told us that while we were gone the temperature had gone up to the 60°F for a couple of days and mostly hovered above 50°F for the rest of that period.  I can see the result of warm temperatures in our garden.  Roses, hydrangeas, tree peonies started to bud.  The silver maple in the front yard has blossomed.  The crocuses and snowdrops are blooming.

Many of over 200 crocuses we put randomly in the lawn last autumn have blossomed.
Many of the over 200 crocuses we put randomly in the lawn last autumn have blossomed.
Flowers open up with out bees to pollinate since the temperature was a little bit too cold for them to come out
We put crocus in as early food for bees but this spring the flowers opened up without the bees to pollinate since the temperature was a little bit too cold for them to come out

Then two days after we came back, the temperature dropped again, combined with a high wind that resulted in a wind chill below 0°F.  Last night the temperature was in a teens and today it is barely above freezing.  It’s de ja vu of last spring.  Plants started budding only to get frost burn.  We didn’t have any hydrangeas last year for this reason and the first round of roses looked awful.

Plenty of Snowdrops pushed themselves through mulch leaves
Plenty of Snowdrops pushed themselves through mulch leaves
Two bulbs of rescued tulip have become a healthy clump
Two bulbs of rescued tulip have become a healthy clump
Young leaves of Anise Hyssop stay close to the ground. Hopefully they won't get frost burn.
Young leaves of Anise Hyssop stay close to the ground. Hopefully they won’t get frost burn.

I don’t even know how the honeybees are.  They’ve been so quiet, no sign of dead bees in front of the hives.  We weren’t here when the temperature soared up to see if they were out cleansing.   They’ve been too quiet for my liking and I have no way of checking on them.  It’s either too cold or too windy to open the hives up for inspection.  To be on the safe side, I have ordered one more package of bees to be delivered in May.

Beehives, all wrapped up, amid snow when we left for vacation. Due to lack of storage, we left empty supers out in the garden, unwrapped.
Beehives, all wrapped up, amid snow when we left for vacation. Due to lack of storage, we left empty supers out in the garden, unwrapped.

Though it will not be a promising spring, I still look forward to it.  It’s time for me to start tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings and prep tropical plants in the basement for a warm and less seesaw temperature outside.  In a little bit over a month the seedlings should be able to set their roots in the garden and tropical plants will enjoy real sunlight.  And, hopefully, the hives will have survived another winter.

Feeding Bees in Winter

Mission Accomplished

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.

Bees coming up to eat fondant dripping from the inner cover
Bees coming up to eat fondant dripping from 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.

More bees coming up.  I know I'm imagining it, but it still looks like they're smiling.
More bees coming up. I know I’m imagining it, but it still looks like they’re smiling.