Tag Archives: honey bee in winter

Winter Emergency Feeding

Just In Case…

It’s over 50°F again today and the honeybees came out of their hives even though it’s cloudy.  I observed them carrying out their dead and picked up a few for a closer inspection.  I found that dead bees from hive #2 have their tongues sticking out, a sign of starvation.  So I decided to open the hives for emergency feeding.

Dead bees from hive #2 with their tongues stuck out. Dead bees from hive#1 have no sign of this.

Even with heavy feeding last September, hive #2 still shows signs of depleted food storage.  I think either they were robbed then or new bees emerged during a few very warm days early this month to reduce the supply further.  As I mentioned in the previous post, hive#2 seemed to have more bees than hive #1 now.

I took my cue from them, even though it’s a cloudy day and the temperature is slightly over 50°F they still came out, so it’s ok to open the hives.  What I saw in both hives is very encouraging.

As soon as I opened the inner cover on hive #1 the bees come up to greet me. I looked inside, found plenty of capped honey combs. I decided to feed them anyway so I don’t have to open them again until spring.
There are many bees in hive #2 but they are down below in the middle super. There are a couple of empty frames in the top super. They crawled up to look at me.

After I saw inside hive #2, it confirmed my belief that I made the right decision in an emergency feeding today.  I don’t know when the next warm day will be and I don’t want to find too many starved bees by then.  Mid-winter emergency feeding can be done either with fondant (mixed sugar with high-fructose corn syrup), or granulated white sugar.  I tried to make fondant once but it didn’t come out well.  I didn’t want to buy the fondant either since most corn syrups are made from non-organic, GMO corn and there is no guarantee that the company I buy from uses quality ingredients.  So, I use granulated sugar.  It’s easy too.

  • I put a shim on top of the super to provide a little room between the sugar and the inner cover when re-placed on top.
  • Put a sheet of paper on top of the frames, either make a little cut in the middle or leave a gap.  I used plain natural packing paper, newspaper is fine too.
  • Pour white granulated sugar on top of the paper.  Level it down to a little bit lower than the shim height.  I put 3 pounds in each hive.
For hive #1, I cut a hole in the middle of the paper and poured sugar on it
For hive #2, I left a larger gap between the papers so they have more feeding space. This hive has less food left over than hive #1
More bees from hive#2 came up to inspect the sugar as soon as I poured it in
Put the inner cover back on top of the shim then put the top back on

I find that winter emergency feeding this way is fast and painless.  The moisture in the hive will rise up and condense which will help soften the sugar.  The bees will slowly feed on it.  They will chew the paper, which will be wet with moisture making it easy to chew off, and carry out of the hive.

I feel better now after feeding them.  I also removed dead bees off the screen bottom of hive #1.  I saw that bees from this hive had been using only the top entrance lately.  I checked the bottom entrance and found it blocked with dead bees, too many for the bees to carry out.  Once I cleaned out the dead, they started using the bottom entrance again.

Bees started coming in and out of the bottom entrance of hive #1 again

Hive #3 is confirmed dead.  There are plenty of dead bees and plenty of food left in the hive.  I think they froze to death when the temperature dropped to -5°F earlier in the season.  They were the smallest of the 3 hives.

Seesaw temperatures make it difficult for both bees and their keepers to maintain the health of the hives.  The bees wasted energy coming out in warm-mid winter weather with nothing to take back to the hive to replenish their stores.  Then they starve if not closely monitored.  In my earlier days of beekeeping, one of my hives died of starvation.  It wasn’t a good feeling to see them that way so I do my best not to repeat it again.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Pollen

Bringing Christmas Gifts For The Hive

It’s Christmas day but the weather feels more like mid-spring.  The temperature has been hovering around 60° F and the bees have been busy feeding on sugar syrup.  Some bees prefer fresh Chinese broccoli flowers which are the only flowers left in the garden.

I  looked at all the hives and to my surprise they were taking in pollen as well.  Not just one or two bees but many of them bringing pollen back to their hives.  I have no idea where they are getting pollen from but it’s noticeably two different colors.  I hope they are just bringing it back for storage and not for rearing a new brood.  It’s the beginning of winter and next week the temperature is expected to drop down between 20-30° F and snow is predicted.   We still have two or three more months to go before anything starts to bloom again.

Here are the busy girls taking in Nature’s Christmas gift:

Bees bringing pollen into the first hive
Bees bringing pollen into the first hive
The second hive were busy as well
The second hive were busy as well
More pollen.
More pollen.
One lone bee in front of the third hive
One lone bee in front of the third hive

Though the third hive is the smallest, they were busy as well. They widened the hole at the top entrance a little bit.  I think it might be too hot for them in there so they needed more air circulation.  Two days ago it was almost completely closed and it was a little too wet out side from heavy rain.  I’m glad they are still active, since they appeared to build up the hive very slowly.  If the winter continues to be mild like this I think they will pull through.

 

One Warm Day

Many Activities

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.

The bees came out from the top entrance since the bottom one is covered with snow.  I cleaned snow off the bottom landing afterward.
The bees came out from the top entrance since the bottom one is covered with snow. I cleaned snow off the bottom landing afterward.
Dead bees on the snow in front of the hive
Dead bees on the snow in front of the hive

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.

He kept his eyes on me as well as scanning for food
He kept his eyes on me as well as scanning for food
This is the one on the woodpile a few years ago, with his back to us.  This photo was taken from our kitchen window
This is the one on the woodpile a few years ago, with his back to us. This photo was taken from our kitchen window
He caught a Downy woodpecker and decided to chow down on the woodpile. This photo taken through two panes of window glass.
He caught a Downy woodpecker and decided to chow down on the woodpile. This photo taken through two panes of window glass.

 

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

Bees On My Mind

Their Well Being

Winter is not just a time to look through plant catalogs but also the time to plan for spring beekeeping.   As much as I don’t like 50º F in January, following -6º F days, it has taken a heavy load off my chest.  Last week the temperature had dropped to -6ºF and the windchill made it feel like -15ºF, hovering around a single digit for a couple of days.  I’ve been living here for over ten years now and this winter is the first time the temperature has dropped that low.   I wasn’t sure that our hives would survive.

Today it went up to 53ºF with intervals of rain throughout the day.  I was relieved to see the bees come out from all three hives.  They survived a subzero temperature!  My method of insulation worked.  Now I have to make sure that they don’t starve to death.  I thought I had fed them enough to last until spring but I was expecting an average winter here and the bees would just ball up inside the hive eating less.  I didn’t expect the weather to jump up and down like like this.  I’m debating on whether to feed them during the warm days coming up.  Maybe I should wait until later in winter.

Looking back to last season raises concern regarding bees in general, not just honeybees.  Though I don’t have to provide hives for native bees that forage in our garden, I have some concerns about them since I’ve found more parasitic insects that prey on bees.   But I’ll give nature the benefit of the doubt since I think she knows what she’s doing.  Here are some of the critters I found last year:

Bee fly (Xenox tigrinus) which according to the book Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity by Stephen A. Marshall “attack lavae and pupae of bees and wasps”.  I found a couple of them resting on the beams supporting the patio roof.  The female will deposit eggs in the host tunnel and her larvae will consume the host larvae.

I saw this Bee fly because I had a dead Carpenter bee pupae drop on me while I was on the patio
I saw this Bee fly because I had a dead Carpenter bee pupae drop on me while I was on the patio

The female of Ripiphorid Beetle (Macrosiagon limbatum) will lay her eggs on flowers and their larvae will take a ride with bees or wasps back to their nest where they feed on the larvae of the host.

This beetle stayed on a Spotted bee balm which is frequented by various species of wasp and bumble bee
This beetle stayed on a Spotted bee balm which is frequented by various species of wasp and bumble bee

Cuckoo bee (Nomada species) has no pollen sack on her legs, will lay eggs in the nest of other bees where their larvae will consume the host larvae.  They will also consume pollen that the host has collected.

Cuckoo bee resting on Rudbeckia 'Prairie Glow'
Cuckoo bee resting on Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Glow’

Wool Carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) or European Wool Carder bee is not parasitic to other bees.  They are just very territorial and guard their territory from other bees.  I am really fascinated by them.  I’ve spent some time watching them scrape the hair off a Rose Campion’s (Lychnis coronaria) stem, fly off and return for round after round.

Wool Carder bee scraping the hair off a Rose Campion's stem
Wool Carder bee scraping the hair off a Rose Campion’s stem

And, we all know the wasps.  I’ve seen them many times around the honeybee hives, trying to catch bees.  As much as I prefer to let nature take her course, I couldn’t help myself but swat a few of them.