Last week, I caught the bees outside on a warmer fall day. They were sipping water from the decorative cabbages on the front porch. I sat and watched them. Each dipped their proboscis into the water. They seemed to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Their movements were sluggish. These were not summer bees but winter bees, that the queen had laid for the sheer purpose of surviving the upcoming season. The summer bees were all gone. Their lifespan was only around six weeks. Unlike their sisters, these winter bees could survive for a few months.
I took a moment this week to head over to my third hive. I had not visited it in a couple of weeks. When I arrived I could not believe my eyes. I opened the hive and discovered that the population had boomed!!! The hive was crowded. At 1 pm in the afternoon, most of the bees were still foraging away from the hive. This was when those bees were not home. I could only imagine the lack of space when they returned for the evening. I needed to intervene. I did a thorough inspection. and was surprised to find multiple queen cups
|The smoker waits near the hive to be lit.|
It had been approximately three weeks since I had last inspected the hives on my property entirely. It was time to go in yesterday and take a peek at the bees’ status. The first hive I opened was Briar. Everything looked great! There were eggs, lots of brood and the two lower deeps were filled with honey. The bees started filling the first frame of the honey super and their mood was pleasant. The girls were content to line up on the frames in the hive and stare up at me with curious little bee eyes. They left me alone and did not care that I was inspecting their home sweet home.
|A fellow beekeeper’s hive with a healthy brood pattern
(center of frame-each cell filled with a new baby bee waiting to emerge)
As you read in my last post a few weeks ago, both beehives survived the winter and both underwent a bit of spring maintenance. Today, it was sixty degrees outside and the sun was shining brilliantly in the sky. Both hive entrances were bustling with activity. It was time to do the first spring hive inspection.
Two days ago it was the first day of truly warmer weather. We reached 55 degrees. As I was heading out to my car this afternoon to run some errands, I noticed that my car was covered in bee poo, blobs of yellow dots and streaks adorned my car. This was a good sign. Knowing the bees were out and about, I decided to take a peek at the hives quickly before I left and I was shocked.
The buzzing was intense. Loud. There were hundreds of bees around the hives. The hive I call Willow had the beginnings of a bee beard on the outside of the lower deep. Immediately, I had concerns about swarming. Bearding can mean that the bees are feeling as if they have run out of space. Knowing that Willow’s population was already through the roof from the last peek that I took, I called my mentor. Luckily, he was in the area and he had extra equipment and supplies with him.
First we opened Willow. My suspicions were correct. Even this early in spring, the bees were feeling as if they had outgrown their space. They immediately needed somewhere to go. Over 80% of their candy board was consumed. We sprang into action. We quickly did the spring maintenance The hive temperament was good. We didn’t even need the smoker. We did not inspect this hive thoroughly to look for the queen. With this many bees, we know that she is thriving somewhere inside the hive. We added a third deep so that the bees would have extra space and not feel so cramped. Not only will this help to prevent the swarm, but it can also help when it comes time to do a split. A split is when you make two hives from one. However, it is still too early to make the split in the season. This will have to wait until May. Then I will have to make some big decisions on how I want to do the split. I have a few important decisions that I will blog about soon.
|The entrance after the cleaning and reversing the deep’s position.|
Next we opened up Briar. Only 15% or so of the candy board was consumed. The bees were strong in numbers but no where near that of Willow. This hive we inspected. There was still a good amount of stored honey, pollen and some fresh nectar was being brought into the hive. A few bees were loaded down with assorted shades of yellow pollen. We did not see the queen, but it did not mean she was not there. We did not see any brood either, but she may not be laying yet. It is still early in the season here on Cape Cod. This hive is strong as well. So it too will need to be split later this spring.
|Dead bees and hive debris after the cleaning. One live worker bee (center) scavenges for anything valuable to the hive.|
On both hives, we did a bit of spring maintenance.
Please keep in mind this is a bit early for where I live but these efforts were taken to prevent swarming:
- reversed the order of the two bottom deeps to help prevent swarming
- cleaned the IPM ( Integrated Pest Management) boards that I kept in all winter long to help insulate the hive
- kept the candy boards in place. Will start feeding sugar syrup to Willow in a couple of weeks. No need to feed Briar, as they have plenty winter stores (honey) left.
- Cleaned the screened bottom boards
- Scraped off excess propolis
- Replaced older broken frames
- Inspected both hives for the queen or signs of the queen
- Added an extra deep to both hives that can be used later in May to make the splits.
|It’s not pretty, but these borrowed deeps will help to make the splits in a few weeks.|
Never trust used equipment. Be sure to always add new frames and foundation and torch the insides of the boxes-all the nooks and crannies- to prevent the transmission of diseases and pests.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
|Last, week the hives were covered in snow.|
Earlier this week I went to our monthly local beekeeper’s meeting. As always, it is so wonderful connecting with folks, checking in with them and hearing updates about their lives and the bees. Over the course, of chatting, I quickly learned that many folks had already lost their hives and were busy ordering nucs and packages to replace their lost colonies in the spring. As the temperatures were expected to warm up this week, I decided that I needed to take a peek into my hives sooner than later. Peeking at beehives in winter can be tricky.
Honeybees work. They work all spring and summer to store up enough pollen and honey for their colony to survive the winter. However, sometimes, their best efforts are not enough and they can end up starving to death if their supplies run out. As you have read, in the early spring and late fall when the nectar and pollen supplies are low, we feed our honey bees sugar syrup as a supplement. They can take this honey syrup or leave it. The choice is up to them and it provides them with access to extra food if need be. However, sugar syrup and freezing temperatures do not agree, thus those keeping bees in colder climates must feed their bees another way.I have researched this very topic quite a bit. The good news is that there are options. You can make fondant that sits on top of the frames, that they bees can eat as needed. You can use the Mountain Camp Method with some sugar poured directly on newspaper, or you can create a candy board. To me the choice is clear. The candy board once made requires little maintenance It is easy to refill. It can hold up to 15 pounds of sugar. The sugar itself, helps to absorb moisture and humidity from the hive. It is accessible to the bees from all the frames in the upper deep. It does not require the beekeeper to open the hives frequently to check and replenish the food.
|Hives with mouse guards perched on top ready to be inserted.|
Winter preparations have begun. This week I took the honey supers (honey collectors) off of the last hive. Three weeks ago these two supers were half-full of uncapped honey. As I removed the supers, they were barren of honey. The bees must have moved it or consumed it during the last few colder days. Click here for parts of the hive.
|Eggplant, cardoon, basil and tomatoes thrive near the hives.|
My nine year old son decided to title this post. You see, I had a heck of a time with the bees yesterday! It had been a while since I had entered my hives as I was just letting the bees do “their thing”. During the summer they forage and work hard, but come fall, it’s time to do an inspection and see that their summer has paid off and also to help them where they need it to survive the Winter. It was also time to check for bee pests that propagated during the warm season.
I came into the house a few days ago after running errands in the afternoon. The kitchen smelled as if a skunk had just been over for a cup of tea. Thank goodness the windows were closed and locked in my absence. I could only imagine what it would have smelled like if they had been open. In broad daylight, it looked as though a skunk had wandered through our yard. It must have been visiting the bees.