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.
Are they alive? It got down to 10 degrees last week, and are my colonies still alive? Do my little nuc's even have a chance? Today was the first one in a while to hit mid '50s. Nothing makes a beekeeper happier than being chased off by his honeybees while he's snapping photos of them on a sunny mid-January morning.
Both nucleus colonies (or "nuc's") were full of activity this morning, and my full-sized colony was super busy at the entrance. Cleansing flights were underway. The reduced entrance (gotta keep out field mice during the winter) made everyone who'd been holding it for weeks have to wait a bit longer before they got their chance to eliminate. But every bee will have its chance today. Forecasts show an even warmer Saturday and Sunday ahead.
This photo truly blows my mind. Notice at least two honey bees with full pollen baskets on their hind legs (the bright orange and yellow sacs) to the left of the entrance. I saw pollen coming in in mid-December but never got around to blogging about it. My red maple tree had strangely began to bud and some of those buds began to open ... in mid-December! I figured that had to be the source of the pollen. BUT seeing pollen of different colors come in means they're finding it from a variety of meager sources out there. Honey bees will make the most of whatever they find, and a protein source in early winter is pure gold for them. I saw pollen in a light gray variety today, too. Dandelions are also clearly blooming in my yard. Thank God for "weeds".
Even the little nucleus colonies were getting in on the pollen action. See the pollen on the hind legs of the honey bee underneath the landing board at left and near the nail head? Yep, orange pollen. I assumed all the activity was simply a time for the bees to stretch their wings and take a much-needed potty break. But seeing how fast they get to work foraging is just amazing. These photos were taken around 10:30 this morning, when temperatures were 41 in the shade. With my hives pointed Southeast, they get the morning sun and temperatures at the hives range generally 12-15 degrees warmer than those in the shade.
One nuc had more traffic than the rest. I think the one on the right is slightly smaller. Still, its traffic was busy, and I was delighted to see bees at all three of my hive entrances. I noticed the mortician bees were busy at work disposing of a couple of bodies. Here you can see one dead bee body being pushed out and off of the landing board right in front of the entrance. Lots of work to do and very little warm time to do it. I was dutifully chased off several times, one for each colony. After a bitter cold spell with temps down to 10 degrees F, nothing makes a beekeeper happier in winter.
So my winter setup for 2014-15 is working! My two nuc's at left each have two 5-frame deep boxes, separated by a middle shallow super. I took two regular nuc boxes and hand-sawed them down to be shallows in November. I shook enough bees off from the large colony at right to fill 5 frames for each of the nuc's, and gave each a completely covered and capped shallow of syrup honey the larger hive had made. All of the bees in the nuc's were in the one box on bottom, so I figured I should put the food chamber and additional bees directly overhead. I did a newspaper combine, then after a day they were unified into a single unit. Now, each nuc has plenty of room to travel up over the winter and plenty of food as well. I also put a block of candy on top of each nuc (and the big hive) for more food and to absorb any excess moisture, as well as shim with a vent hole on top to allow plenty of air circulation. A couple bales of hay, which worked great for my bees in my first winter, went on either side of the nuc's and the larger hive, too. I put some extra concrete paving blocks on one bale to steady it. Also notice that since my large hive isn't centered on the stand that I had enough forethought to put a concrete block where one day another hive will go ... say, maybe one of my splits this spring if all 3 colonies pull through the winter with flying colors. So far, they are! Now, I can rest a little easier this winter.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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