Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hives of Activity

 Well, despite the fact that it’s January 25th, our hives are a-buzzing! We couldn’t be happier. We expected that we would have some loss – some of those hives weren’t particularly strong when we bundled them up for winter, we are noo-bees, and winter loss is just a fact of the business. We expected we may lose two or even three of our little apiary, but today, again, they are busy at work. We had to see what they were up to.
The first thing we noticed was that the bees jumped at the opportunity the warmer temperatures brought, and started their spring cleaning. As we have said before, they are incredibly clean animals, not wanting any dirt or debris in their hives. Over the course of the winter, for one reason or another, bees don’t survive, so the first job when cleaning is to push the dead bees out. It looks like a fairly big task, but after watching them kick the drones out – sometimes requiring three and four workers to force the male out of the hive – in the fall, the job is probably a bit easier. Then again, at this time of year, the bees are probably not as strong, being older, and being inside the hive for weeks at a time.

Pushing dead bees from the hive.
We’re thrilled that they are not just surviving the winter, but thriving through it. That doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods, though. We still have to get through February, which can be bitterly cold here, and we may even have to help them get through March, so we can’t party down quite yet.
The hives are alive and busy, which means the bees are eating. More than likely, the Queen has started to lay eggs again, putting more demand on food stores. Starvation at this time of year is always a concern. They’re working, and they could go through their food rather quickly. If we continue to have warm days, though, they could soon start to gather pollen. *waits a minute for the laughter to stop* Here in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, the bees have a ready supply of pollen they can collect any time of the year – pine trees. They are great pollen producers, and if our weather keeps warm like this, and we can make to 60F, our bees could easily slip into the tree belt and get a bit of a nosh to keep them going.

A return of the cold weather could also give another opportunity to mites and disease, as the bees gather tightly together in the middle of the hive. As mentioned in earlier blogs, humidity in the hives is also a concern if the temperatures drop. The cluster of bees can maintain a temperature of 92F, but as they work to maintain that temperature, they sweat. Just like humans, when we consume food to live, we also give off solid and liquid waste. For bees, that moisture – respiration – rises to the top of the hive. If the temperature is below freezing outside, and the moisture collects, and the hives are not properly insulated, ice will form and block the bees from getting to the food. Our special tops on the hives help to stop this by having extra ventilation to allow the moisture to escape, and by having materials that will soak up the moisture without dropping it back down on the bees. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen though, so we still must be vigilant to keep them protected.

Yes, today we opened a hive. It’s cold, and we don’t want to let that cold air in, but we believed the hive had not survived. It was a wonderful surprise to find them alive and happy, and very busy. There’s still more winter to get through, but we’re feeling very blessed today, and are looking forward to getting back into the groove with our 150,000ish little ladies. 

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