Friday, March 11, 2011

Straight from the Hives

Even though it's way too early for our honey bees to be thinking of venturing out of their winterized hives on a daily basis, we slogged through the 2-3 feet of snow on the ground around their chain link enclosure to check how they fared over winter.

We went into fall with five hives. Two were weak and, in hindsight, we now realize we would have been much wiser to take these bees out of the big hives and put each group of bees into their own nuc for over-wintering.

The nuc "housing" would have provided a smaller, more compact, more easily heated set of living quarters for the bees.

The downside would have been that come February, the queen wouldn't have had the room needed to start laying eggs and raising brood.

So we gambled that the bees in each full-sized hive would make it through the winter and then could get a running start on building up their populations in the hive by spring.

The bees still had plenty of food stores in each of their hives, but the bees are all dead. There just weren't enough bee bodies in each of the big hives to keep things warm and do what needed to be done through the long winter.

I suppose you could say we were being greedy (certainly not using our best reasoning capabilities) in hoping that somehow each hive would survive, and we'd have the two full-sized hives as opposed to the ones in the nucs that would be way behind on raising brood needed for the coming season. Bad bee management on our part.

The other three hives are looking good, I'm happy to report. One is exceptionally strong and the other two are in good shape. All three of these remaining hives have plenty of food to get them through these last couple months of unfriendly bee weather in these parts. (Hang on, you little pollinators and honey makers, the worst is over now.) Before we know it, we'll be having some bright, sun-shiney days when the temperature climbs to the 40s. Then the bees can get out for much needed cleansing flights and put an end to their cabin fever. (Hive fever?)

Honey bees face an uphill battle in our climate of long, cold winters, but each year we learn more and are able to do better by them.


Jane said...

I was just reading today about the latest findings on GMO's effects on bees and honey production globally. Very sad indeed. Sorry to hear you lost two hives.

Jane said...

Sorry about the loss of your hives. Bees are getting scarce around here,I worry every year that there won't be enough of them to polinate our garden. Glad you didn't lose them all. Blessings jane

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I'm going to start calling you Pooh - or would you prefer Winnie? :)

Mama Pea said...

Jane - Yes, that's a part of the reason that we've been trying so hard to get strong colonies established up here in our rather isolated area. We lost two, but still have three strong ones! We came out on the plus side!

Jane2 - There have been years when we've lost them all, sad to say. So we're gaining!

Jen - Hmmm. Mama Poo? Just so we don't make it Mama Pea Poo. ;o)

MamaTea said...

It sounds like quite the learning experience. I would love to keep bees but my youngest is very allergic. :( I will just have to live vicariously through you. :)

Anonymous said...

That's great Mama Pea. I'm learning so much about you, a bee-keeper too. Wonderful. Can you believe we "spring ahead" tonight? Very exciting! Oh, had another roof avalanche, of all times, while I was watching a very tense paranormal movie, lol....I'm quite sure I jumped ten feet in the air! But this time, I was stubborn...I just took the shovel and packed it all down to make a snow ramp,lol...take that tin roof!!!

Mama Pea said...

Mama Tea - Buying local honey will support other bee keepers and give you lots of nutrients, too. Bummer about your son's allergies. I'm sure you always have to be watchful because of that. Maybe he'll become less allergic as he grows. Hope so.

Rain - I can't take much credit for the bees. My hubby is the resident "expert" around here.

I'm starting to worry about you being caught in an avalanche of snow sliding off your roof! Wear your hard hat when you go outside.

Leigh said...

I reckon this is why they say hindsight is 20/20. Still, those three strong colonies are a blessing. At least you had more than just two to begin with (taking notes here).

Erin said...

Sorry to hear about those 2 hives, but glad your others are so strong!

Karen L. said...

This post brought back so many fond memories of my Dad. He kept bees for many years not only on friends' farms but also one hive in our back yard. I can vividly remember mowing around that hive in the hot summer in NJ by first looking for the incoming and outgoing paths. I also remember moving a hive in the back of our station wagon. Our dog, a German shorthaired pointer, was in the backseat and was not too happy about the humming going on behind her! I always loved to help with the removal of honey from the frames every year. I still have my Dad's bee bonnet. Thanks for the memories and sorry to hear about your loss. My Dad would have grieved a bit over the loss of even one bee let alone a hive or two. (Because of all of this, I buy my honey locally in NC.)

Mama Pea said...

Leigh - Unfortunately, conditions seem to be different each year so it really keeps us on our toes trying to do what's best for the bees. But they are totally fascinating and we're hanging in there.

Erin - We're happy. Last year nearly all the beekeepers in our area lost all their hives so this year is looking good!

Karen L. - Oh, so sweet to hear your memories of your dad keeping bees! Glad my post brought back those memories of yours.

MaineCelt said...

I suspect it's mostly a case of beginner's luck, but we're happy to say that our bees seem to have successfully wintered their first winter here. My partner took a beekeeping class last year and decided on a top bar hive instead of the standard stacked-box style. We really weren't sure how it would fare through winter's deep snow and cold, but the bees have taken a few cleansing flights and the hive looks good! Glad you had a fair number of survivors too. Goodness knows we all need bees!

Mama Pea said...

MaineCelt - Wa-hoo and hooray for you! Yay for your bees! We haven't taken the plunge and tried out the top bar hives yet but sure are interested in hearing of people's experience with them. One of the couples in our bee keeping group is going to try them out this year so we'll be watching closely to compare them with the old standard hives here in our climate.