The warm weekend continued in the low 50's F, which meant in the sun it was a balmy 65 F degrees. That was great news for the bees, which wasted no time bringing in pollen in mid-January. Where are they finding pollen sources? That's protein, folks. They have carbohydrates in the form of all the sugar syrup I fed them over the late summer and fall (in addition to what nectar they brought in during autumn's goldenrod and aster flow). Add protein to that and you have healthy, happy hives. I was expecting to put pollen substitute patties made of soy flour and sugar syrup into the hives, and I will in a week or so depending on weather ... but not this weekend. The temps are warm enough and fate is kind enough to provide. Notice on the nuc at left how the colony has sealed the hive body to the landing board with propolis (an anti-viral glue mix of tree sap and bee enzymes mixed together). Also notice the forager bee that's landed with a full pollen basket of bright yellow-orange pollen on its hind legs. I am spending the weekend counting my many blessings and lifting up prayers of thanks.
There were lots of funeral services to be held as well. Mortician bees, as I like to call them (housekeeping bees, really), got to work disposing of their fallen comrades out of the hive and onto the ground below. This is another reason I put a hard surface underneath my hives. Colonies that AREN'T disposing of bodies on warm winter days probably are under-strength and at-risk, or possibly dead, needing intervention from the beekeeper. Seeing this makes me realize I have nothing to do here other than to give thanks. Both nuc's are doing great in mid-January of 2015. I am not patting myself on the back as much as breathing heavy sighs of relief knowing I've learned some tough lessons in the past two years and have put that knowledge to good use.
The candy blocks I put atop both nuc's and my full-strength hive, seen here, were getting plenty of attention on this warm day. I love watching the blocks slowly disappear over the season. This is 100% hardened sugar, and in the depths of winter it provides a wonderful source of food as well as absorbing any excess moisture that might accumulate on frigid nights when heat from the cluster of bees below rises and could possibly form condensation. I keep screened inner covers on my full-strength hives over winter to allow plenty of air flow, as well.
Super close-up of the girls at work, breaking down this rock-hard sugar block and putting it in the colony below.
In mid-December I decided to refill my oil tray beneath the big hive to catch beetles. Seeing dead beetles on the tray I'd emptied of oil in November made me realize that there are still beetles surviving winter in the middle of the cluster of bees on cold nights. So it wouldn't hurt to refill the trap with used cooking oil, left over from a late-summer's meal of fried chicken livers. The beetles LOVE the smell of the used oil. Turns out that was a good move. Today I counted 12 dead beetles in this trap. In this photo you can see seven of them, along with a few dead Varroa mites that won't be making their way back into the hives. This is during winter. So, I am now committed to beetle oil traps beneath the hives as one of my IPM methods. The bees are making the most out of these warm winter days here in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Days like this that make me count my blessings I'm not keeping bees in Ohio, Vermont or Canada and make me think even more fondly of and send warm wishes to my fellow beekeepers north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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