Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Keeping the Hive Alive

The hives in their new apiary. The snow is up to the top
of the benches they sit on (18" high) and the weatherman
is today calling for about another 12" to fall tonight and
tomorrow morning.
As we brace for yet another blast of snow (really, Mother Nature, enough is enough) it might be a good time to think about spring, from a bee’s perspective. We spend a lot of time making sure that our bees have the best preparation possible for winter, but in Canada, that season comes with a lot of variables, so in many ways, it can be a bit of a nail-biter. For us, it is very rare to still have these cold temperatures and snow falling. That is where we’re at right now – wondering if we gave them enough food, wondering if the weight of the hives was high enough to give them good odds of survival, etc. The one thing we do know is that when the temperatures are this cold, we cannot open up the hives to check on them. That blast of cold would definitely hurt them.

February last year, we were able to get into the hives.
In the fall, we closed the screens at the bottom of the hive, to help keep them warm. We treated the hives to make sure there were no mites in them – we want to make the viruses that come in on the mites do not get a chance to impact the brood that will carry the hive through the winter. We have made sure they have food in the hives. They also have stored honey and pollen which will become vital to them once the days start getting longer. That last brood of bees in the fall are ‘winter bees’. During the rest of the year, a worker bee lives about 6 weeks. Winter bees will carry the hive for up to 6 months. They have to be as strong as possible.

The worker bees from one of our hives forcing out a drone
last fall. The drones are much bigger, have much bigger eyes
and have no stinger.
Our bees should have already started laying new brood. They need pollen for protein primarily for the brood, so those stores are already being depleted. In the spring, once we can open the hives, we will be able to give them additional pollen, but right now, they are on their own. In the coldest months, they will be frugal in their use of stores, but once the queen starts laying brood again, the demand rises sharply. Remember that through those winter months, the worker bees keep the hive at a constant temperature (or as close to it as they possibly can) by rubbing their wings, or vibrating them, to create friction. They do this all day, every day, to protect the Queen.

An evicted drone. Notice the size of the eyes. 

Our queens now should be making worker bees. They will not create any drones until they are needed – in a bee’s world, men serve one purpose, and one purpose only; if it is not breeding season, the drones aren’t necessary, and come fall, the worker bees will make sure that every drone is kicked out of the hive. They are not feeding someone who does nothing to keep them all alive.

Making bee boxes... again. 
So, our bees are in their boxes, rubbing their wings, creating friction, eating very little. The brood is starting to be laid, so the queen is doing her thing. They cannot get out of the hive to forage. They also cannot get out of the hive to relieve themselves; there is no indoor plumbing in a bee’s world. On days when it warms up enough, they will leave the hive if for no other reason than to do that which they cannot do inside. Our bees have not had a possible ‘cleaning flight’ day for over three months, and this is definitely a concern to us. As winter drags on, they are thinking about one thing – providing for the hive the minute the temperatures are right. They need to have brood ready to take over, because those winter bees are getting tired. They need to have bees ready to forage, and they need more to take care of brood as the queen keeps producing. It’s all about keeping the hive alive. While some animals hibernate during the winter months, and other (like the wiener dogs) are sleeping in front of a warm fire, our bees are working like crazy in those little boxes.

Of course, they aren’t the only ones working in preparation for spring. We’re once again making bee boxes, making honey supers, putting together frames, and planning what to do with our bees and our honey this year. We’ll keep you posted on that. 

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