There’s a lot to learn about beekeeping and part of the reason for writing these pieces is to pass along the things I’m learning so those who might take up beekeeping can learn some of the things I wish I had known when I got started.
A beekeeper friend and I have both experienced the fact that we inevitably lose hives during our harsh central oregon winters. I have always thought it was the cold, yet, people keep hives in Alaska, the Dakotas, Montana and Nebraska, all places known for winters harsher than what we experience here.
A few weeks ago I was shocked to find that I had lost a hive that was very strong, heading into winter. So a couple days ago I took it apart to see what I could learn. Most of the honey in the bottom super (box) was gone and the bees had moved up to the next super. This is common and demonstrated they were healthy enough to stay warm and be able to move about. There is also lots of honey in the third super on top, which they had not needed yet. There was plenty of honey for them to winter on, so what was the deal? It was a very healthy hive going into winter, why didn’t it make it?
When I removed each frame from the hive for inspection I began to notice a lack of pollen stores. In fact I couldnt find any pollen stores in the hive at all. After completing my inspection I concluded they had run out of pollen and died. Pollen supplies the bees with protein and essential amino acids. Without it they cannot survive.
This discovery seems to validate a conversation I was having over the internet and later on the phone, with an individual who used to live in central oregon but moved to Nebraska many years ago. He has kept bees for many years and has very little in the way of winter time loss even with Nebraska winter temps of minus 15 degrees for a few weeks at a time. He was explaining to me how important pollen is to wintering bees and asked what the pollen flow was like here in the fall. I told him our pollen sources are there but the supply is light.
He told me that not only do they need to have a certain amount stored but it also needs to be from a variety of sources because each plants pollen contains a different variety of amino acids.
So there it is. I believe the lack of pollen is the reason I lost a hive this winter. Fortunately there is a simple solution. I went online and purchased a pollen substitute and gave it to my remaining hive, just in case they are running low. I also noticed our pussywillow is getting close to blooming. The first dash of relatively warm temps will have it in full bloom and I know the bees love it. With temps of 50+ degrees predicted for the next week, the bees may be able to find the first of their natural spring pollen sources.
A pollen substitute is normally fed in the months of August and Sept so the bees have an opportunity to store lots of it prior to the winter temps when they cannot get out of the hive. I am hopeful this seemingly simple solution is the answer I have been looking for and will vastly improve the survivability of my hives in the winter. Then we just need concern ourselves with those pesky mites.