Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Surprises -- Good & Bad

The winter storm that pummeled the North East was a bust for us. Not even 2 inches of snow. That doesn't mean I haven't had worries, though.

Austeja has been a concern ever since she swarmed late last year, going into winter with the least amount of honey. Even though she got some sugar on Thanksgiving, the observation window shows that the sugar is nearly gone.

To be frank, I'd prefer not to open the hives in winter and break all their propolis seals. On the other hand, if they have no food, they're goners anyway. So I've been waiting for a mid-40'ish day to restock her. I figured that they should be clustered up, but it wouldn't be too cold to freeze me or the bees -- a win-win all around. Today (46 deg F according to my weather app) seemed a perfect day to do it.

The last warm day we had, I kicked Bubblegum and Persephone, but got no reaction, leading me to believe they were deadouts, but they might have some honey I could steal for Austeja. Peach was the easiest to open, so I checked her first. However, I got a big surprise! Two bars in, and there were bees! Hooray!

Persephone was up next, and I got another surprise. The bars at the very end were completely empty. Bars closer to the cluster had only a ribbon of capped honey at the top. "Oh, no, they starved!" I thought. But as I kept going through the hive, there was no evidence of starvation. No dead bees buried deep in the cells. In fact, there wasn't a single bee to be seen. There were about 4 bars chockfull of pollen and a few capped bees left behind, but that's it. I've heard of this happening to a few other people up and down the East Coast, but I'm still wondering what the heck happened?

Some splotchy capped brood that was left behind

Bar with honey band

Honey band and lots of pollen

Pollen up close

No bees

This is where the cluster should be. No bees at all.

So no bars of honey to steal for Austeja. Ok, more sugar for her. I popped her open rather casually expecting her to be clustered up, but no! A furious black cloud flew at me, expressing great displeasure. I didn't even bother sugaring the combs properly. Instead, after filling half a bar, I cravenly fled. Since my good intentions were so completely misunderstood, I'm going to try this again another time -- maybe next week when the temps are chillier and I'm properly suited up. Today, all I got for my trouble was a sting to the index finger and a jacket covered in poop.

How are your bees?


  1. Those bees just don't quite seem to appreciate what we do from them sometimes. In Virginia, we had a ton of snow (30 inches) and then a warm day up to 50 yesterday. I wasn't home to check the hives, but I looked this morning and there are hundreds of bees around the bee yard. First warm day in a while, so I assume the bees are just cleaning out. Quite the surprise for a first-year beekeeper, though. Good luck with the rest of winter.

    1. Glad to hear that your bees are alive and well -- especially after you had those massive mite drops! It's kind of horrible seeing all the dead bees on that first warm day, but it's also a really good sign.

    2. Yes, it is horrible. Hundreds of dead bees in all directions around the hives. Kind of scary, even. I thought perhaps my top bar hive didn't make it, as I peeked in the window can couldn't see anything on that side of the hive.

      Then yesterday it was in the 40's when I got home, so I rapped on the front of the hive. A couple bees came to investigate, so something is still going on in there.

      Stay warm!

  2. I've read many times of beekeepers finding their hives empty in the winter. It's usually blamed on Varroa mites, the typical sign of Colony Collapse Disorder. But I can't speak from experience because I've never seen it myself. No varroa in Newfoundland. Sorry to hear it.

    It's been too cold to lift the top off my hives for a while, so I listen to the bees with a stethoscope. My five Langstroth hives aren't as buzzy as they were before the new year, but I'm guessing that's because they're cold, not because they're starving or freezing to death (I hope). I don't think they'll run out of honey any time soon, but I am concerned the clusters are too small to survive the rest of the winter. Most of my colonies were not what I would call fully established going into winter. All I can do is hope.

    At the moment, I'm just happy there are no shrews inside the hives. I had eight colonies of various sizes last winter. Shrews destroyed or contributed to the eventual demise of all but two of them. It was devastating. I know a commercial beekeeper who lost 200 of his 300 hives to shrews last winter. She since switched to quarter-inch mesh to keep them out. Me too.

  3. That's so cool that you have no varroa in Newfoundland. How do you keep it out? Is the importation of bees from the mainland strictly prohibited?

    I tell people that Persephone took off because I was planning to off her queen in the spring. However, it's more likely that you're correct about her absconding due to varroa. Varroa is usually not an issue for first-year packages, but it's not impossible. In any case, she was a weak colony with poor bees and a poor queen, so it's no great loss to see her leave.

    Fingers crossed for you and all your bees! It looks like an early spring is shaping up for us in New England, so maybe you'll get some warm weather sooner than usual, too.

  4. I would not say no to an early spring.

    Newfoundland has never had varroa because it's an island far off in the middle of a very cold ocean. Honey bees can't make it here on their own and we have strict importation laws. As far as I know, it's the only place left in the world that hasn't had varroa. So we're lucky, though our extremely short summers seem to balance everything out.


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