Sunday, January 20, 2013

No, They're Not Sleeping

Do bees hibernate?  No!  In the winter the bees form a cluster (hold hands) and shiver their wings to create heat.  They keep the inside of the hive at about 90 degrees.  Bees on the outside of the cluster rotate into the middle of the cluster where it is warmer.  It takes a lot of food to keep this energy going, which is why we leave 50-60 pounds of honey in the hives for the winter.  

Bees are very clean and do not poop in the hive.  When we have a warm spell like we did last week, the bees leave the hive and take a cleansing flight.  While they are out, they'll forage for pollen and nectar, but this time of year there is none, so when they return to the hive they rely on stored honey and pollen.  Sometimes they run out before nature provides in the spring. When the temperature is below 50, the bees won't take sugar syrup in a feeder.

On the first of those two days of glorious spring in January, I went out by the hives. Bees were actively flying in and out of Hives 2 and 3, but Hive 1, my swarm hive, was a ghost town.  In the late fall there had been a lot of dead bees in front of that hive and I feared the hive had not survived even half the winter. The second day of our January spring, I was delighted to see that there was activity in Hive 1, too!  

At a bee conference last fall I learned about sugar blocks as an emergency winter food supply. Bees generally start out the winter in the bottom of the hive and slowly work their way up, eating as they go.  If they run out of stored honey before the nectar starts to flow, they will starve.  I decided to try this winter feeding method. My husband build a spacer that rests on top of the inner cover, an enclosure for the 6 X 6" blocks. As the bees move up the hive, they hopefully find the sugar brick resting on top of the slotted opening of the inner cover.  

I don't know why the bees do a lot of what they do, but as the cold weather approached late last fall, the bees in Hive 3 were hanging out at the very top of their hive.  Apparently, they didn't get the memo about where they should be positioned. A couple of weeks ago I peeked under the lids of the hives.  In Hives 1 and 2, all was quiet.  If the bees were in there, they were deep in the hives. In Hive 3, those girls were still up top and had worked their way about halfway through their sugar block.  I knew I would have to replace their food supply some time soon.
Warm air rises in beehives, just like everywhere else, so taking the lid off the hives in winter is never a good thing, but a few seconds of cold air allows a beekeeper to know if they need food.   The sugar bricks in Hives 1 and 2 were untouched, but Hive 3 had very little left.  Yesterday's warmer temperatures seemed like a good opportunity to add a new brick for the hungry girls in 3.

When I took those prior peeks into the hive, the girls in 3 paid me no mind.  In my first mistake of 2013, wearing no protective clothing at all, I removed their lid.  I quickly saw that they were close to finished devouring the first brick.  Then a guard bee flew at my head.  As I reeled away from the hive, she got into my hair, an ominous, distressing feeling indeed!  Bent over at the waist, shaking my head, trying not to fall down the hill into the ravine, was the scene.  The bee shook out and I headed back to the hive to place the brick.  The next thing I knew I was picking a stinger out of my finger, brushing bees away from my pants, hearing bees near my head and feeling one in my hair again.   The hive had been open for too long and I used the new brick to move the remnants of the old brick out of the way. The bees that were feeding were getting angrier by the second and the dreadful sensation of the one buzzing my hair got the better of me.  I placed the new brick on the inner lid, no doubt crushing many bees.

By this time, my white knight had arrived to aide his damsel in (great) distress.  He ran for a dog brush while I headed across the meadow, hoping I could get the bee disentangled without incurring another sting, fully aware that the hive was still open.  The dog brush did the trick and I managed to remove the last couple of bees from my clothing without another sting.  

I went indoors for a double dose of Benadryl and Sir Lancelot went out to cover the bees. Then I waited for the swelling to begin; it didn't take long.   I had the presence of mind to remove my bracelet and wedding rings. My left paw is hot, puffy and itchy.  Considering the number of mistakes I made, I think I got off lucky.

2013   1
2012   7
2011   14