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.


Anonymous said...

Hey ya'll! Greetings from cold Carolina! Its getting - no - gotten COLD here in the last 48-hours. This morning our low was 16 degrees just before daybreak. I saw a lot of housecleaning this week, the girls dragging out the dead and putting them outside the hive - which caused me to worry. But its like Cliff (in Ireland) told me in my comments, its not the ones outside the hive you need to worry about, but the ones inside. Still, I worry though..just because its what I do, lol. I hope you guys stay snug and warm! Pray for an early spring!

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