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.
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