Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inspection Notes: What to do? What to do?

11 pm., Wednesday evening, we plodded into the house, travel-worn and weary from a 13-hour trip from Athens via Frankfurt. By 3 am, I was wide-awake and dying to see my girls, whom I'd missed for two-weeks while we were away on vacay in Greece.

Of course, it was dark and 50 deg. F outside, so in the best interests of all parties involved, I decided to postpone the inspection until the afternoon. Meanwhile, I did a quick run to the store for some milk and eggs. On the way, I noticed that the goldenrod had begun to bloom while we were out of town. Hooray! The fall flow is starting!

My princess insisted on personally inspecting
"her" princesses, the nucs Princess Peach and
Princess Bubblegum.

Once the temperature warmed up to the 70's, I went out to the beeyard. Bees were coming in with pollen, a good sign for sure. Eagerly I popped open the hives and... WTH?!!?!?! With the exception of Hippolyte, there was no nectar in any of the hives. In fact, the bees looked hungry. Although they all had plenty of nectar and some capped honey before I left, within two weeks, they had eaten it all. In fact, they were also starting to break open the capped honey as well. Bees were digging deep, headfirst in the cells looking for the last drops nectar. Except for Hippolyte, none of the hives had drones either. I assume that the lack of reserves caused the girls to evict them.

See the raggedy caps on the honey? The bees have been opening the cells up.

However, all the hives had capped brood, eggs, and larvae, so that was a good sign. Additionally, I noted a lot of black pollen in Persephone that wasn't there a couple of weeks ago. My guess is that the purple loosestrife has begun blooming, too.

Some nice brood comb

This is probably going to be one of the last inspections before I close up shop for the winter. I'm troubled, though, by their complete lack of reserves and the unseasonably chilly weather we're having right now. What to do??? To feed or not to feed... I'm weighing a number of factors and options.

Black pollen. From purple loosestrife, I think.
Truthfully, I want to get away from feeding except in the most dire circumstances, but can I get away with it? Beeks usually recommend 12-15 combs for my area, but there are people who overwinter 5-frame nucs, so it must be possible to bring a small colony through the winter, right?

Because of all the splitting, my hives are about half the recommended size, about 6-8 combs total right now, 2-3 combs in each hive contain brood. I'm wondering, if they get all the combs filled with honey during this fall flow, will that be enough to sustain them? I've heard of a beek in Sweden who overwinters bees on two-frames. He is able to do this because bees shrink and expand the colony based on available resources. So if I don't feed them, won't they simply keep the colonies on the small side in order to better manage their resources?

Pollen is obviously coming into the hive, so I assume that nectar is, too, even though I'm not seeing it being put away. Of course, the goldenrod wasn't blooming when we left, so the fall flow must have started sometime within the last two weeks. However, it really is chilly, much colder than I'm used to this time of year. This concerns me because I'm worried the fall flow will be a short one.

All 5 colonies appear to have good queens, so I don't want to combine any of them. I'm thinking that I might do some feeding for about a week just to tide them over until the fall flow is in full swing.

What do you think? What would you do?

For the past couple of days, I've been thinking about something that Chris Harp said, "During my first 10 years of beekeeping, I killed 10 different hives, but in 10 different ways." Hmm... I already lost one last year. I'd like not to bring the count up to 6 this year.


  1. Welcome back! Sounds like you had a fun time over there. Combining the hives was my first thought, but if they don't have enough honey stored up, you'd just have more bees for less honey. For the 5 frame nucs, it seems like they'd have to have a couple of full frames of honey to make it. It will be interesting to hear what more experienced beeks come up with for your dilemma. Hope you get a good fall flow - my bees are in a dearth right now and I'm not sure my new hive is going to make it because they don't seem to have stored up a good honey supply.

    1. Thanks, Don! Yeah, combining was my first thought, too. I figured more bees could collect more nectar faster. However, all the queens are good layers, and I really do want to keep all 5. If they can fill 5 combs before winter, I suppose that would be like having a bunch of 5-frame nucs, which I can live with. If I feed them, I have no doubt they can do it, but I'd rather not feed if they can bring in nectar.

      Sorry to hear about your new hive. Are you feeding? Or are you administering tough love?

    2. Tough love. ;-) I haven't done an inspection for this hive in a few weeks (except through the window), but plan on going in tomorrow morning. The other hive had lots of nectar, so I'm hoping this one does too and that some of it is honey. They've only built 11 full combs (which I guess isn't too bad), but have a couple of partials, so I'll have to wait to see what is in them. It's my typical worry mode....

      As I was working in the yard today, I was thinking about a comment you made in a previous post - you can either make bees or honey. It could be that with all the splits, they've been busy making bees. I hope you get a good goldenrod flow, there's still time. And like you say, if they can fill out 5 frames, you can just scrunch them in with the follower boards.

    3. Thanks for that thought. It's always good to get an objective (and calm) opinion. Yes, I think you're right. I think they're using up all the incoming nectar to make bees, so I'm just going to keep a watch on them. If they're not starting to fill up by the end of the month, I'll begin feeding like mad.

      Fingers crossed that your inspection tomorrow has happy news. Looking forward to a post on it! :)

  2. I would feed at this point in the year!

    1. Thanks for the advice. I think I did start feeding a little the last two weeks of August. Some hives guzzled the syrup down, and some didn't. Right now, I'm feeding pretty heavily, and again, some are guzzling, some aren't. Bees are interesting.


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!