Yesterday we went out to check on our bee hives. Here Roy is opening up the first hive. All of the pictures included in this post were taken then.
In northeastern Minnesota, the long, cold winters are devastatingly hard on bees. This past winter was just such a typical winter, and our bees suffered. We made sure to leave them plenty of food for over-wintering, but because of extreme conditions, it didn't seem to do much good.
We went into winter with five hives. This spring was cold, wet and gray which made things worse for the bees. After having to stay clustered together in an effort to stay warm all winter and not moving about in the hive to get to their stores, their "hibernation" season was made even longer by the bad spring weather. With no sunshine, no warm days for them to get out for cleansing flights or even realize winter was over(!), more of them died.
When the queen bees started laying brood in late winter, the bees had to stay in a yet tighter ball cluster to keep the brood alive. The main aim was still to keep themselves, the queen and the brood alive which took too much of their energy.
Bottom line, when Roy checked the hives in early April, we found we had lost four of the five hives.
The remaining one hive had a handful of bees and a queen but no live brood. Roy was doubtful that there were even enough bees left to rebuild the hive. Never underestimate the strength and determination of a honey bee though. Gradually through the late spring and summer, that rag-tag little bundle of bees built themselves up into a moderately strong hive.
A good friend that we had gotten started in beekeeping a few years ago fared better over winter than we did. He lives approximately 40 miles away and must have a micro-climate that is kinder to bees than we do because his consistently seem to do better than ours. He gave us two splits from two of his hives in early June. Splits consist of two frames of bees including eggs, some partially sealed brood, some completely sealed brood plus a queen cell. Those two splits situated in their new home (on our homestead) developed through the summer into strong hives.
The above is a shot of our bee enclosure. We have them totally enclosed in a chain link cage including a chain link covering on top. This is because we've got black bears that would love nothing better than to get their big paws on some honey. The whole enclosure is inside an electric fence also. The chain link fence might not keep out a determined, very hungry bear (after he went through the electric fence) but hopefully it would cause enough noise that we could get out there before the hives were totally destroyed.
So we ended the season this fall with three moderately strong hives although they hadn't put by much honey due to having to use all their energy to build themselves up over the summer. Needless to say, there was no honey for us to take off our hives this year.
Without a good supply of honey in the hives, we knew the bees were going to need a little extra help over this coming winter, so this fall we fed sugar water.
Below is the sugar syrup feeding tray which sits on the very top of the hive.
Each of the three hives took about twenty pounds of sugar along with some biodynamic additions to enhance the syrup mixture. We fed until the bees stopped taking the syrup and at this point, Roy feels they're ready for winter. We're now waiting for seriously cold weather to wrap the hives with 1" thick foam insulation to help keep them warm. Then we hope for a bee-friendly winter, early spring, and bountiful summer for them to flourish in. Then maybe, just maybe there will be enough honey for us to take some for our own use next fall.