Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Snow Bees

Here we are at the end of January and man is this winter dragging! Every year I forget how long it stays cold and start looking for the warm weather before it is ready to arrive.

Anyway, we have had a cold but relatively dry winter up until a few days ago. Over the weekend we got dumped on by a big storm system that came through. By Saturday afternoon we had about 7 inches of snow on the ground.

The bees survive the snow just fine. In fact I doubt they are very aware of it at all. I have read that snow piled up around the hive actually helps to insulate them and protect them from the wind.

I did clear the snow away from the fronts of the hives but I don't know that that was completely necessary. The heat from the hives had already melted the snow directly in front of the entrances. What was interesting was that even though it was only 24 degrees outside when I took this picture, there were bees crawling around the front entrances. They are not supposed to break the cluster until it gets well above freezing. The only thing I can figure is that they were taking advantage of the melting snow in front of the entrances to collect water.

Now back to the subject of feeding Virginia. I know I have changed my mind on this subject a couple of times. Back in December I was worried about both hives and wanted to add some dry sugar as supplemental feed. Then, when I peeked in at the beginning of January, Georgia's bees were still in the bottom deep and Virginia's had moved up to the top- I thought they both had plenty of honey so I quit worrying. Since then I have read that if the bees are to last the winter on their own honey, they should still be working on the bottom deep in the first part of January. Apparently spring can be a precarious time for bees and they can quickly starve to death if they run out of honey stores too early. So now I have decided to supplement Virginia with dry sugar- if we can ever get some warmer days that is. I don't want to chill them to death while I am trying to save them from starving to death.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Inside The Hives

It warmed up to a balmy 38 degrees today so I went out to take a peek at the hives this afternoon. There was not a lot of activity but there were a few bees walking around on the front porches. Since it was apparently warm enough for the bees to break cluster a little I decided to peek inside and maybe see about feeding them some supplemental sugar to make sure they could make it through the winter.

Having never opened up the hives in winter before, I didn't know if they would be calm or cranky and if I should gown up or go in bare skinned. I chose to don the hat/veil combo and put on the gloves just to be safe. It turned out that I didn't need to- they were very calm and docile. Not even one bee flew up out of the hives.

As I looked down into Georgia I could hear the bees buzzing in there but couldn't see any without pulling and moving the frames. I didn't want to disturb them too much so I let them be. I guess the cluster was down in the bottom deep hive body. What I did find, to my pleasant surprise, was that all the frames in the top deep were full of capped honey! That really put my mind at ease- I was afraid that I had not fed them enough last fall and they would run out of reserves before spring. I replaced the top cover and moved over to Virginia. Virginia was just as calm but I could see plenty of bees. The cluster had moved up to the center frames of the top deep hive body. I was even more worried about Virginia's stores because she seemed to take less of last fall's sugar syrup, but the 3-4 frames on either side of the cluster were full of capped honey. Let me tell you- that really put my mind at ease. Looks like no mountain camp supplemental feeding will be necessary. I closed up Virginia and went back in much less apprehensive than I had been.

I have one question that I am hoping some of you other beekeepers out there will be able to answer. As I looked down into Virginia I noticed some of the bees looked like they had yellow pollen granules stuck to them. I had noticed the same granules on some of the dead bees outside the hive. It is not on all of them by any means- actually they are on far less than half. Do any of you have any idea what it is and should I be worried?

Let's see- we are now approaching the middle of January. I think it will be time to start spring feeding in a month to a month and a half- sometime in March? I have some pollen patties stored in the freezer- we ordered them to feed the packages when they arrived last April. What I didn't know then but I do know now is that 15 pollen patties will last us several years. I will throw them on the tops of the frames in addition to sugar syrup to give the bees a kick start on spring brood rearing. Hopefully, we will then have two rip-roaring hives going in time for the late spring/early summer nectar flows. I do still want to order a new queen for Virginia- she really slowed down at the end of last summer (even decreased in population a little bit) and her bees got a lot crankier than Georgia's did. I hope that a new queen will calm them down and help them build better numbers.

Winter has been long but the end is in sight! We will soon get to graduate from "Newbie" status and become "Second Year Beekeepers"!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

They're Alive!

Just a few days ago I posted Snug As A..... Bee In A Hive and mentioned that it had been to cold for the bees to fly in the past month or so. This had become frustrating to me because A) I miss seeing them buzzing around, and B) I am a little concerned about their winter stores and want to start some supplemental feeding with granulated sugar. Well, shortly after posting that blog entry I happened to look up at the thermometer saw that it was 39 degrees outside. So much for the accuracy of The Weather Channel!

I immediately ran outside to look at the hives and saw.... nothing! I was really disappointed. I crouched down and rapped on the side of each hive with my knuckles and heard a loud buss from each of them. A few guard bees from each hive wandered out of the entrance with their stingers up in the air. They are cranky but still their! It was good to see them, even if they were mad. I stood there for a while and watched as a few bees did a little house keeping and brought some of their dead comrades out of the hive and deposited them a few feet away.

We were just about 20 minutes away from heading out to church so I didn't have time to get the mountain camp feeding going right then. By the time we made it home the temperature had cooled back into the 20's. I guess that will have to wait for another day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Snug As A..... Bee In A Hive

Oh I am tired of winter... and I think the bees are, too.

December was a cold month and the last time I have seen any bees (any live bees that is) was Thanksgiving weekend. I remember that day specifically because November 30th was St. Andrew's Day. I was dressed in a kilt on November 29th waiting to head out to church and decided to go have a quick look at the hives. It was a frosty morning, but as the sun hit the front of the hives the frost melted and left little drops of water suspended over the front entrance. As I looked more closely I saw two little bees from the Georgia hive slowly sipping water from the hanging drops. I thought that would make a pretty cool picture and ran inside for the camera. By the time I made it back out they had slipped back inside. While I have seen a lot of dead bees since that time, those were the last live bees I saw before winter set in with a vengeance in December.

As December started, a cold front moved in and for about 2 weeks night time lows were reaching 20 degrees below zero and day time highs were lucky to get above zero. It warmed a little after that. Most days we have had highs in the 20's with lows in the teens and single digits and the occasional subzero night with a few dustings of snow. The last week of the month we finally started to get a few days above freezing but still not warm enough to allow the bees to fly. With it being too cold to see the bees fly I have been anxious about how they are faring inside. I have periodically put my ear down to the entrance and have always been able to hear the cluster buzzing inside. It is amazing to me that it can be 20 below outside but the bees stay snug and warm inside their hives. Sometimes the buzzing is louder and sometimes it is fainter- I assume that is due to the cluster moving about on the frames eating the honey they had stored- sometimes they are close to the entrance and sometimes they are further away. I just hope they have enough honey stored to last them through the winter.

All through December I have found piles of dead bees in front of the hives. Georgia was a really strong hive going in to the winter and has had large piles of dead bees on and around her front porch. Virginia was a much weaker colony with a smaller population and has had many fewer bees littering her entrance. I know it is normal for bees to die in the winter but I can't help feeling a little sorry for the girls.

The cold temps have had me a little nervous as bees are very hygienic creatures and will not... how shall I say this... do their business in the hive. They have to wait until it is warm enough to perform "cleansing flights" and relieve themselves outside. I was beginning to wonder how long bees can "hold it" before they explode. I consulted with other beekeepers on and learned that during times when the bees are rearing brood they have to relieve themselves at least every few weeks because they are consuming pollen which contains a lot of solids. When they are not rearing brood (like now) however, they are only consuming honey which is very low in solids and they can hold it for months at a time. That made me feel a lot better. So now I am anxiously awaiting the day when we get a nice warm front move through and highs reach about 40 degrees so I can watch the bees fly again.

As far as the honey stores go, I can tell the bees are using it up- I just am not sure how fast. At the beginning of the winter I hefted the hives to get an idea of how much honey was available to the bees. Georgia's hive was quite a bit heavier than Virginia's- but Georgia had a much larger population and would need more. I hefted them the other day and Georgia has gotten a lot lighter. Virginia is lighter also, but the difference is not as great. I keep telling myself that they will be fine but I worry all the same. I suppose it is normal for fathers to worry about their little girls. If it would ever warm up enough to take the top cover off, I would supplement their honey stores with sugar in a feeding method called "Mountain Camp" feeding. To do this you simply put newspaper across the tops of the frames in the hive, pour on granulated sugar, and replace the top cover. The bees can then crawl up onto the newspaper and take the sugar that they need. According to the weather channel's website we are not supposed to get warmer than the low 30's for the next 10 days or so. Come on warm front! Where are you?

In other news- we have been experimenting with the hand and foot balm that we have been making with the beeswax. Originally we were just melting beeswax and olive oil together. This worked but left your hands kind of greasy for a few minutes after applying it before it all soaked in. Recently we bought a little lanolin and added that to the mix. This had made it creamier and less greasy. We just might have stumbled upon the perfect recipe!

I guess that's it for now. If we spot any cleansing flights or if we are ever able to go ahead with mountain camp supplemental feeding I will let you all know how it goes.

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