Today, January 23, the temperature rose up to 62°F and the rain stopped around noon. Our honeybees from hives #1 and #2 came out to relieve themselves and get some fresh air. Hive #2 went into winter with fewer bees than hive #1, but today, many more bees emerged as the population clearly has grown.
It seemed more bees than from Hive#1. With only a .75 inch entrance, there was a lot of traffic in front of the hives. I managed to shoot a quick video of them
Some of the bees were taking their dead out. Many of them flew off with the bodies but some of them just dropped the body right in front of the hive. They have little hooks on the bottom of their feet that are non-articulating therefore difficult to manipulate, so I watched them struggling to dislodge the bodies. From the clip below I counted eight bees that made the trip out with bodies.
One the one hand, I’m happy to see them alive and well after a couple of zero degree temp’s, but I’m afraid that they will run out of food before spring arrives. The sad part of the day is that I don’t think hive #3 made it. No one came out today. There was one dead bee just inside the entranceway. Probing the entrance with a twig will always bring a guard bee to investigate. But this time it brought no live bee to investigate. A very bad sign indeed. Still, quoth the song; ‘two out of three ain’t bad.’
After a week of Arctic blast temperature here, we have a balmy 60°F temperature this morning though raining. The rain will continue for the rest of the day and is expected to stop by Saturday morning. But 60 degrees Fahrenheit is high enough for the honeybees to come out of their hives and start cleaning themselves. This weekend the temperature is predicted to drop below freezing again. After I looked at the thermometer on the patio, I promptly took an umbrella and cellphone out to the garden. What I saw really made my morning.
We’re so happy to see them pull through a brutally cold, -5°F some nights, and uneven temperatures throughout. If they pull through this winter, the next generation will be more adaptable to the climate in our neighborhood. My concern is hive 3, the smallest one. There were a lot of dead bees in front of the hive when I checked on them the first time this winter.
My consolation is that they have to have live ones to carry the dead out. Even this morning, there are fresh dead bees on the landing. I have hope for them.
At least two more months before spring comes, I hope they have enough food to last until then. Heavy feeding since late summer should help. In the meantime, the squirrels are making a lot of pockmarks in the lawn, digging up crocuses that we planted for the bees.
Losing all six hives last winter took the wind out of my sails. I set up three new hives in spring but the weather has been uneven through the whole season. The cold weather had lasted much longer than usual and the temperature has been seesawing from spring into autumn. Some days we had 40°F in summer and 70°F in late November. Heavy rain washed out flowers when there should have been plenty of them around at the time. All in all our honeybees couldn’t build much honey storage this year.
When I inspected them in September, they barely had a full 8 frames in the super. My gut told me I had better start feeding them. I fed them from early September until the end of October when the temperature started to drop. The total amount of sugar syrup I fed the hives amounted to around 4.4 gallons each. I hope this helps them through the winter as the last inspection before closing them up showed they have plenty of food stored now.
I closed them up just in time as the temperature dropped down to below 20°F for a couple of nights. I thought they should be fine for the winter, but the weather wasn’t on my side. The temperature shot up to above 50°F for many days and one day, even above 70°F . We’re talking about late November here. The bees came out every warm day. They even did their flight orientation.
Nothing out there for them to bring back home since frost had killed most of the flowers, so they have to depend on their food supply in the hive. I cannot feed them again without opening the winter cover and the bottom entrance. I hope the temperatures stabilize to something more seasonal so they can just ball up in there. I also hope the winter doesn’t drag on like the last one did. We have done so much damage to this planet that we are starting to see the effect of our self-inflicted wounds every season. I’ll do the best I can for the bees in my care and keep my fingers crossed.
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.’
The honeybees were busy today, flying in and out with a lot of pollen. I’m glad we live in a watershed area with so many trees blossoming at this time of year. There are not many leaves to be seen but a lot of maples here are budding. A large silver maple in the front yard just unfurled its petals as well. Observing them bringing in pollen has reduced my concern for them not having enough protein to raise their young. I try to keep honeybees the way nature intended. I don’t use any chemical treatment of any kind. The research I did early on made it clear that it’s possible to keep bees naturally and organically.
It was warm and sunny today so I opened the dead hive to look for the cause of death. The whole hive was so light. I could easily lift all three supers by myself and look at the screen bottom board. There were very many dead bees at the bottom. I decided to move the whole hive away from the other’s just in case there were any transmittable diseases. Opening the supers up on the driveway one by one to inspect, there was no foul smell and no moth cocoons but all combs were empty. Combs in the top super had dead bees in a lot of the cells. Even the inner foam insulation showed signs of being chewed. They were trying to find any food source to prolong their lives during the six long brutal months this winter but in the end they starved to death.
After seeing what caused one hive to die I felt an urgent need to feed the surviving ones. I know they can find their own food most of the day now but a little help won’t hurt. It was warm enough (62º F) for me to open the top and feed them with sugar syrup. A gallon for each hive should be enough to give them a boost. I hope I can open and inspect these hives soon so I can have some bearing of why they survived and the other one didn’t.
As much as I mourn the dead one, I’m glad that two out of three hives survived this last winter. They are strong now and will produce a very strong generation of honeybees. As Nietzsche put it…”That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”