Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Apairy Update

“We are getting near,” said Gandalf. “We are on the edge of his bee-pastures.”
~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit


Woohoo, the bees are doing well! Finally we’ve had some warm enough weather temps for them to get out on a cleansing flight and for us anxious beekeepers to take a quick peak just in the top to see if they are needing to be fed or even indeed still alive. The Italian bees that I have need it to be about 50F (10C) for all this to happen. My bees often fly on a sunny day at about 45-47F degrees but at 50F degrees they’ll fly and I’ll be able to lift the lid for a quick check without risking a potential death chill to the cluster. I wouldn’t dare remove frames and really dig around in there just now but a quick peek is ok. My dad’s Carnolian bees will fly at cooler temps by a few degrees so are able to get out a little more often during our cool winters. When the time comes to re-queen I may go for a Carnolian next time, but my Italians have been quite hardy. I haven’t lost a hive yet, while many around us have.

When it’s too cold for them to fly and take a peek inside, you never know if they are still alive. I do have a removable bottom board tray under my screened bottom board which collects debris so I can often see ‘activity’ based on what I see in the tray. I was a little concerned a few weeks ago. In winters past I’ve been able to hear the bees within the hive by the age old method of eavesdropping with a ‘drinking glass to the wall’. I hold a glass up to the side of the hive they normally winter-over on (always the sunny south side for mine) moving it around till I can hear a buzz now and then, so I know they are ok. I’ve been trying this several times this winter with no audible success. I even bought an inexpensive stethoscope hoping for an easier method but I just can’t hear a darn thing out of it…not even my own heartbeat! Bah! Since I was pretty sure I’m alive, I checked with my friendly neighborhood nurse and yep, the thing works so I guess I’m just not stethoscope friendly. Dang!!! Am I hard-of-hearing already? I was hoping to not have to get down on my creaky knees with the glass anymore. Well I couldn’t hear them with the glass either this winter so maybe the stethoscope idea isn’t a total loss…yet. Maybe it’s just where they are located. The bottom tray debris collection gives me a great idea of where to start listening.

So, all that to say I was not sure they were still alive. We’ve had a few frigid bouts with air temps and snow, more than normal, but today I’m so happy to report they are alive and well. They are flying and spiraling up, up and away and I think I saw one come back with a little pollen. Here the heaths are blooming, a very important bee plant in cold regions as many are usually in bloom for those first, important winter cleansing flights. I’m putting in a new garden in the parking strip in front of the house and I do believe I’ll be adding a few Erica carnea, the lower growing, ground covering heath. If you want a taller mound of heath consider the Erica darleyensis varieties. Both are most frequently seen in nurseries and either will make your gardens more bee friendly.

The next 2 months are tricky times for bees in my part of the world. Going into winter, this was a strong hive, meaning lots of bees. The queen should have begun to lay eggs by now and their numbers can grow quickly. They’ll go through their food sources faster so I need to keep an eye on if/when they need supplemental food. Plus, there’s a chance our coldest temps are still coming. Hang on little bees, hang on! We can see the light at the end of winter’s tunnel!

All in all it’s a good day and a good report from the apairy.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), violet primrose, Sarcococca, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops),

Authors photo


Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

Hi Joan! I love to learn all the interesting details you have about how the bees live, like flying at 50 degrees! So fascinating to read! I wonder what the bees in Colorado do in the winter... especially days like today. At last check (11:00 AM) it was 10 below zero (we're having a cold snap) with wind chills in the negative 30 range. Do bees survive that if they are all huddled together, like in a tree I wonder? Or do they head "south for the winter" as birds do?

I hope if the CO bees are still in town that they are doing ok in these frigid temps!

Joan said...

Hi Shari!
Bees do not head south like birds. They are homebodies and hunker down for the winter in what ever they have made their hive in spring/summer. They do not hibernate like some animals but they cluster together and flex their muscles to create heat. They keep the cluster at temps in the 90's (F) to keep the queen alive all winter and themselves. If the cluster is too small of a population they cannot make enough heat to survive cold temps like yours or even mine. At 10 below you can be sure they are all staying in a cluster in their hive whether it's in a hollow tree or a beekeepeers hive body (that's what we call the boxes that make up the hive).
Yikes that is a cold snap! I hope it's gone soon...you need some warmth! Take care!

Cindy said...

oh my gosh...writing all this down!

SERIOUSLY you couldn't hear with a stethoscope?

I say you stick a baby monitor in there next time you open-er up!

it's what WE do round here!

I didn't miss your last post...I just never got a chance to comment because my home computer has been hijacked and the work one is not being nice.

so sorry!

I'm here....I PROMISE.

question???? if it's super cold, like snowing and they are creating that kind of heat...does it melt and than freeze??

just curious.

I'm still dreaming of our hive.
Life, please become normal again!!!!!


ddzeller said...

Love the update about your bees, I was just beginning to wonder when the bumblebees will appear; we usually see some big ones (the queens?) flying around in February.

Joan said...

Hi Cindy! I am definitely stethoscope challenged but I LOVE your baby monitor idea! Made me laugh! And they only heat their own little mass, not the whole hive...very efficient critters. I've seen pix of hives with a few feet of snow on and around it, like up in New England and the snow stays, does not melt from hive heat. It's very insulative for them and beekeepers are encouraged NOT to brush it away...only to keep the entrance clear for ventilation. To see a picture check out Jan 2011 cover of Bee Culture magazine...maybe their website at beeculture.com has it. The bad thing is, it doesn't appear that anyone has cleared the entrances. Bad. I'm glad you are still here and I DO hope you life returns to normal soon. You'll love being a beekeeper!

Hi DD!
You are right, the big bumblebees are the queens. They winter over differently than honeybees. It's my understanding all the worker bumblebees die off in fall leaving the queen alone. She hunkers down somewhere then flies in late winter seeking out a new hive location and begins laying eggs to build her hive again. We should see the gals soon I think, probably within the next few weeks. Yellow Jackets are same...the big ones you see in spring are the queens looking for a place to start a nest.
Thanks for reading!