We are having a warm autumn this year. The daytime temperature is still hovering above 50° F on most days but drops back to slightly above 30° F at night. We had frost for a couple of days early on in the season which killed off most of the garden. So there is not much left for the bees.
Honeybees being honeybees, they still come out looking for food when the temperature is above 50° F and to relieve themselves as well. We had fed them in mid-October but now we still worry that their food storage may not be enough for a winter that has not yet come. Since they spend more energy flying around instead of semi-hybernating in the hive during this time of year, they probably have gone through more of their storage than usual. So we are putting sugar syrup out on warm days. They know exactly where the feeder is and zoom right to it. They still go for any flowers they find blooming at this time of year: Alyssum, Chinese broccoli, Broccoli raab and…Saffron.
I should have grown more saffron but I always start small with any newbies. If it fails I haven’t wasted much. My fellow blogger suggested that I may be able to leave them outside since they are hardy to zone 6. I will leave one pot out as an experiment. If they are like other crocuses that bloom in spring (which I grow in the ground) they should be fine. Then I can have plenty of saffron for tea and cooking, and plenty of food for honeybees in late autumn.
I didn’t expect to see our honey bees until sometime in March when the temperature is a little warmer. But to my surprise, the temperature yesterday shot up to almost 70º F. It doesn’t matter whether there is snow on the ground or not if the temperature is above 50º F the honey bees will come out to clean themselves. They were out in droves yesterday despite it being a cloudy day. It was a relief to me to see the bees from all three hives come out for a warmth break. I wasn’t sure about their condition when the temperature dropped to single digits a couple of weeks ago. Even though we put thick insulation around them, I really don’t know how much cold they can bear.
I have different concerns for each hive since I insulated them for winter: the first one seemed to have more dead bees in front of the hive than the other two, the second one didn’t seem to have much activity, and the third, the smallest hive, may not have enough bees to survive the winter.
Yesterday brought me some relief though. The first hive, despite a lot of dead bees in front of the hive, had even more bees being dragged out. We reasoned that the hive was over-populated to begin with therefore more of them will die out. There have to be a lot of healthy live bees to do the undertaker jobs and yesterday a lot of them did just that…dragging and flying more of the dead out.
The second hive with a lesser population had a busy day as well. There were a few dead bees in front of the hive but there were many bees doing cleaning flights and gathering on the landing board. This is the hive that had been robbed left and right in autumn but it looks like they are managing to hang on.
The third one is the smallest hive and the latest to come to our garden. I did my best to feed them but I wasn’t sure it was enough. During my last inspection before winterizing them, I didn’t see much honey storage or bee population compared to the first two hives. But in the warmth they were busy as well. I’m very happy to see them flying in and out and hope that they will manage until spring. This third hive is the fiercest in defending their home so their toughness may see them through to spring.
The first two hives are fenced in since we have both raccoon and skunk in the area. We didn’t have time to fence the third one so it’s almost an experiment to see if it’s raided by the raccoons or skunks. If not, I would prefer to remove the fence from the first two as well.
Instead of using a mouse guard, I reduced the entrance to only one inch wide. I think it’s harder for mice to get in since the hive is over a foot above ground as well as the small entrance. A smaller entrance in winter also keeps the hive warmer but it causes congestion when the bees want to rush in and out en-masse during their cleaning flights.
I noted that the bees first took out their dead, then started their cleaning flights. Maybe their priority was to clear a path inside the hive first for a better traffic flow.
There were many dead bees in front of the first hive but there were many more flying in and out yesterday. I won’t know until next spring whether the hive has survived or not. I hope this is due to over-population as I counted very few mites last fall or yesterday either and this is the hive that stored the most honey when I last inspected them.
Note: A little good news about honeybees, at least in Europe, in the New York Times on Wednesday 12/18. The article “European Agency Warns of Risk to Human in Pesticides Ties to Bee Deaths” reported that the European food regulators recommended the European Commission to further restrict the use of pesticide neonicotinoids. Hopefully, we can grow food without harming everything in the process… including ourselves.
The weather is getting cooler now and the leaves have started to turn beautiful colors and drop. There are not many flowers left blooming either. This is the time that birds get to enjoy fruits and seed heads. Bees, on the other hand, are busy gathering the last pollen and nectar as fast as they can find it. The food they are storing now will have to last through winter. In the last couple of weeks the temperature didn’t climb above 50°F until afternoon. That’s half a day of food gathering gone for bees. The weather hasn’t been on their side this year.
This is the time honey bees make the necessary preparations for winter to ensure the survival of their hive. Aside from packing pollen and nectar in, they also kick out the drones – the male bees. I’d never kept my eyes on this activity until I read Fate of a drone by Emily Heath which showed a drone chased out of the hive. I found it interesting that a queen lays less eggs in fall to keep the hive population down over winter and they kick out the remaining drones as well.
I don’t blame them at all since the sole reason for the drone’s existence is to mate with the queen, if he gets the chance. That is a big ‘if’ as well since a queen mates only once in her life time, albeit with many drones. Drones don’t forage, don’t clean the cells, don’t defend their hive. They pretty much just hang out, being fed while waiting to mate. The worker bees which are all female, do all the work. However, once the food starts getting scarce, the worker bees will stop feeding the drones and eventually kick them out. It’s fewer mouths to feed and fewer dead bodies they have to drag out. The drone may live a fabulous, pampered life when everything is well but when push come to shove, they get shoved out.
Though it is not a choice of a drone to live as it does, its life reminds me of what my mother told me many times growing up; “Don’t borrow other people’s noses to breath.” The bees just reinforced her maxim.