Even in winter, everyone needs a drink of fresh water. I've been keeping the bird bath cleaned out, free from ice and filled with water. It hit 52 on this cloudy Sunday, warm enough for cleansing flights and to get a drink of water. I refilled the bird bath with clean rain water from our rain barrels. The bees much prefer that over city water any day of the week. Both nucs and my big hive were flying today. So far, 3 for 3 accounted for and present.
I put hard sugar blocks I'd made on all 3 back at the beginning of November. These two blocks were taken from the nucleus hives. On the left you can see that the bees have done a decent job of eating away at the candy block. The block on the right? Not so much. What does this mean about the nuc's down below? Does it mean one is stronger than the other and therefore is eating more, or does it mean one has much more food stores of honey left than the other? The big colony was almost finished with its candy blocks so I removed the candy from the nucs and cut down one block. I divided it between the two smaller nuc's and gave the untouched candy block to the full-strength colony. This should get each colony through the next month, along with some pollen patties.
Time to put some pollen patties on. Bees need protein as much as carbs. The sugar is carbohydrates. With limited pollen resources in winter, I want to boost their chances by giving them some pollen substitute patties. Instead of buying the high-priced mystery powders the bee supply companies offer, I made my own pollen substitute. If you ask a bee supply house, "What is the protein source of your pollen substitute?" most will give you a blank stare or an "uhhhhhh ...." response. I've asked both Mann-Lake and Dadant what sources their pollen substitutes come from. The answers, (other than "uhhh ...") were "plant protein" (okay, so which plants? corn? soy? rice? what's your protein source?) and "soy flour". Most companies do not know. Most will do their best to not give you a straight answer. When I heard "soy flour" after hounding Mann-Lake online and on the phone, I realized that what A.I. Root had discovered and documented in the "The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture" was right on. Instead of buying a pollen substitute I simply purchased some soy flour from my local health food store. I mixed it with some quickly made heavy syrup, and put the paste in-between some wax paper, scoring the underneath so the bees could get to the paste. The wax paper keeps the patties from drying out altogether. The bees remove it with no problem because it's easy to chew through.
So from those two big candy blocks in November the big hive had reduced them to this, a corner piece.
The big hive's cluster was at the top of the top-most super. This hive is comprised of three shallows running 10 frames on the bottom and 11 frames on the two shallow supers above it. I know, it's unconventional. But so am I. All I know is, these bees came in shallows, and they love 'em. Why change something that works?
I moved the one piece of candy they were working on, gave them another candy block that the one nuc had not touched, and put a big pollen patty of soy flour and heavy syrup on wax paper in-between. Even though cleansing and water flights were underway, most bees were staying inside the hives. You could almost hear the "thank you's!" coming from the bees as I put the fresh food right above the winter cluster.
Proof that these girls are doing well and hanging in there for winter. I wish I could see inside the nuc's like this. But this colony is huge, and spans all three shallow boxes, I've determined. At first I thought the big hive was just ignoring the bottom brood chamber, but realized that the small hive space has kept these bees doing well and they span all three chambers. I realized this listening to the boxes throughout the winter and noticing traffic in front, underneath the screened bottom board and the cluster on top. So, T's Bees are counting their blessings. Here is to "right action", my new motto going forward, doing what the bees need and ONLY that, but not missing a beat in-between. So far so good in the winter apiary. Hopefully all three colonies pull through the winter and explode. I'll know in the next 45 days. Other than saying prayers, I'll make sure they have all the food they need to do just that.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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