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.’
I feel less worried and even crack a smile now when friends and colleagues ask me about my honeybees. It was above 50° F yesterday and bees from hive #1 came out in droves. They mostly used the top entrance; only once in a while one or two bees would enter or exit the bottom entrance. I saw a couple of bees go inside hive# 2 but I wasn’t sure that they were bees from that hive. Maybe they were bees from hive #1 that were disoriented and went in there by mistake. Accidental incursions into the wrong hive usually results in the interloper being chased out by the resident honeybees. I wonder if there is any ceremony like the Navy’s tradition of covering an aircraft with graffiti if it lands accidentally on the wrong carrier. Anyway, the other four hives still show no activity but it has been only a little bit above 50 degrees so far. I still have hope for the rest that I’ll maintain until it’s warm enough for me to open them up to find out for certain.
The hives will stay wrapped up until daytime temperatures stay consistently above 50°F and nighttime temp’s won’t go below freezing. I keep checking the weather to see if any of my days off from work will coincide with a good sunny and warm day. I really want to do an inspection, remove the inner winter cover, switch the supers, and clean the bottom board. I don’t use any chemical treatment on the hives. I provide a variety of organic flowers and clean water only and let them live naturally. So a clean hive is a healthy hive.
In early spring, the maple trees are blooming and that’s where the bees are getting their pollen and nectar from. Some snowdrops and crocuses in the garden also contribute. Not much else is available aside from these flowers. But the girls were really busy and we are very happy. Even if only one out of five hives survive this winter of below 0° F days, we are happy. It will mean they have adapted to the winter weather in our area and will build an even stronger generation, passing good, strong genes on.
Here’s a video of them cleaning and foraging. I took this video with an iPhone, so please pardon the shaky images.
I was so happy that two out of three hives survived the winter. The survivors are happily foraging now and busy bringing in a lot of pollen. The smaller of the two survivors stood alone outside the fence, ten feet away from the main two hives during winter. I had already dismantled the dead hive creating an empty base of cement blocks which I had plan to put a new hive on when I can split the first hive later this spring.
What I found two days ago in front of the un-fenced, small hive was alarming. A few droppings were in front of the hive containing what turned out to be partially digested bees. The only animal that eats bees at night had left me a calling card. Great! We have a skunk. I was more concerned about raccoons because they are frequent nocturnal visitors in the yard poaching bird food. I chased four of them up a tree one evening. Another night three of them were climbing on the pool fence looking for suet. But I didn’t expect a skunk to be devouring my bees.
I have brushed off wasps, and chased raccoons but I can’t do much about a skunk. Chasing or confronting one is not an option, as it frequently leads to an onerous, odorous, uncompromising event. So I moved the hive inside the fence and I’m hoping he’ll find easier pickings on someone else’s property. Since we had an empty base already fenced in, we waited until dark and then lifted the entire hive moving it inside the fence.
I checked the bees this morning and found some of them gathering at the empty base of the third hive. Not that many of them to worry about. The majority seemed to know where their new home is. I think these girls will eventually find their way back home just ten feet away. I should have taken away the base completely so there wouldn’t be a queen scent left over to confuse them.
I will have to keep my eye out for skunks from now on. If they manage to dig in under the fence, I will have to employ the next strategy… a mixed solution of Bhut Jolokia chili pepper and garlic. If this doesn’t work, I will contract the owl and Red-tailed hawk to do the job.