Please go to PerfectBee – http://www.perfectbee.com/ to see my latest article entitled “Natural Beekeeping”. I hope you will continue to follow along at Perfect Bee.
Greetings and my best to all of you and your bees in 2016.
I’ve been anxiously awaiting the first mild day of the new year that would allow me to make a quick inspection of some of my hives and yesterday (the 7th) was just the day. The temperature was only 43 to 44 degrees, but there was no wind and the sun had been shining on the hives for most of the day, allowing them to warm up inside.
We’ve had a long stretch of cold weather that forces the bees to remain in their cluster and not allow them to move about in the hive to reach new stores of food. I was concerned that the bees could become isolated to one side of the hive, use up the food stored there and potentially starve because it had not been warm enough for them to move to the other side of the hive where more food was stored. So that was the objective I was looking to accomplish with a quick hive inspection. Which, by the way, is how you should approach every hive inspection, no matter what time of year it is, know your reason for the visit ahead of time.
In all I viewed four hives and spent no more than five minutes inside any hive. Two hives were in great condition. Plenty of food stores accessible to the bees and lots of bees. I spent just a couple minutes in these hives. The third hive turned out to be exactly as I had feared. They were not out of food but very close to it and they were isolated on one side of the box, five frames away from the nearest frame with honey and pollen. I spent a full five minutes in this hive as I needed to move the food stores next to the bees.
You do not want to break up the area where the bees are clustered by placing a frame in of stores in the middle of it. Instead you should move the frames with food stores immediately next to the cluster. I even pulled my hive tool across the capped honey to scratch it open just a bit, allowing them to access it more easily. Now that food is nearby I can rest assured this hive will not starve because they became isolated away from their stores.
The fourth hive I checked was dead. This was not a surprise. The hive had a mite count of 12 percent in September. Anything over five percent is supposed to be treated. For the most part I don’t use chemicals in my hives and so this hive was on its own.
For those of you who do use chemicals in your hives, here is a thought to consider. New on the market this year is oxalic acid. (Its been used in Europe with great success for many years) This is a naturally occurring chemical you find in Rhubarb and other common garden plants. Brushy Mountain bee supply has some good information on it if you want to visit their web site. If you choose to treat with chemicals, this “soft” treatment (called that because its organic) is something you may want to consider. AND, this is the time of year to apply it because there is no capped brood in the hive yet and therefore no place for the mites to hide. (the oxalic acid gas will not kill mites sealed in capped brood) Be sure to read up on the safety precautions if you choose to go this route.
That’s it for now. When the weather allows, be sure to check on your hives to see if there is enough food to see your girls through to spring and if you need to move some of the food they have stored next to where they are clustered so they can access it.
The day before Thanksgiving was sunny and mild and I could not resist the temptation to have a peak inside my hives. After all, we had a serious cold spell about two weeks ago. Cold is not usually a problem for healthy hives, but this cold spell came on so fast I did have to wonder about my girls.
We had balmy weather for weeks this fall and then suddenly we were hit with single digit temperatures, including three nights below zero, the lowest being 19 degrees below! I knew my hives were healthy going into winter with good stores of food, but remember those two new hives I spoke about in the last article? Ah-huh, definitely smaller hives with fewer numbers of bees.
So with a full sun shining on my hives and no wind I decided to take a look inside. I have eight hives here at the house and simply removed the cover and then the inner cover to peak inside. Even though it was nice out you don’t leave the hive open for long so no frames were pulled from the hives, just a look on top for numbers.
I am happy to report that all hives weathered the cold just fine. While you can clearly see a difference in numbers from one hive to the next, they all look good with the exception of one hive and this is the first of the two new hives. Clearly there is enough food stored away but the ball of bees in this hive is not much larger than a softball. Technically a cluster the size of a softball is all that is needed to stay warm and winter and clearly they had done so. My concern with this hive is for when the queen takes a break from laying in December, something all queens do for a few weeks. Because many of the bees in this hive were added from other hives I do not know how old they are, they may continue to die off and not be replaced with new bees when the queen takes a break from laying. Otherwise, all the hives look really good, including the second of the two new hives that were started.
When we were tossing log after log into the woodstove to stay warm during those zero degree days, the bees in each hive were clustered together maintaining a temperature of around 90 degrees. I thought of them often, almost every time I added wood to the stove, but there was no need to worry. They are healthy, doing well and most of all, doing what bees do; gather around their queen, keep her warm, feed her and rest up while waiting for spring.
On a side note, bees born in late fall or early winter are the longest lived bees in the hive. Because they are not outside flying each and every daylight hour to collet nectar and pollen, these bees will live for months instead of only weeks. They will see the hive through the winter months so that it can prosper once again in the spring.
Happy Holidays to everyone. Just like the bees, winter is a time of rest and staying warm. May the warmth of your family sweeten winter days with cozy mugs of cheer.