So far, so good. Six out of 7 colonies I attempted to take through winter, all of them nucs in one size or another, have made it. We've had many warm days so far this winter. But I was tickled to see after a week of lows in the 30s and 20s all six of the remaining colonies doing well. The black plastic tarp on one of our garden boxes is quite the popular watering hole when temps make it to the low to mid-50s.
The bees love the nutrients from the leafy water, and a cozy warm-up from the sun-soaked tarp.
I do love to experiment (as my readers well know). Since my nuc sizes were small, I hedged my bets by adding insulation panels on the brood boxes this year. Was very easy to do and I rest easier. I made sure to increase ventilation since that is crucial to surviving winter. Here you can see an additional experiment I did a couple weeks ago: put a shim in-between the brood box and a super to encourage the bees to chow down on the delicious pollen patties I was providing. I realized I was setting myself up for some problems by doing so (of course, at about 3 a.m. on any random morning). With Saturday hitting 56 degrees, it was my chance to correct that mistake, as well as look in and provide some additional emergency 2:1 sugar syrup (I use frame feeders). My tiny colonies don't have a lot of stores, so I'm hedging my bets by continuing to feed them carbs and protein.
But when it's warm enough, they somehow, miraculously find pollen on their own. In winter! Someone didn't tell my bees that pollen isn't produced during winter, and they found some. Here you can see green and yellow pollen on the hind legs of bees on the landing board.
So time to do some quick work and right a wrong. Nice looking cluster that seems to be growing! I top-dressed the frames, removed the dried out patty and fed some 2:1. This colony didn't produce hardly any burr comb between the boxes, thank goodness.
But this colony sure did. Okay, Thomas, time to fix this.
Not just a mess above, but gotta clean up the mess below. A bit of heavy smoking cleared the bees so I could remove the burr comb.
So cool to see the cluster up top. This colony has been growing through the winter. This one had an amber queen with a gimpy leg. I found her in late fall, realizing the two black Carniolan queens I'd put in the box didn't make it because this colony had requeened itself and she won out. Though gimpy her brood pattern was tight so I said a prayer for her. She is doing very well!
Removing the extra burr comb revealed eggs, larvae and pupae, which told me she's laying well. Also I was happy to see no varroa mites on the pupae that were exposed. The fall oxalic acid treatments really did my colonies good, it seems.
After cleaning up, I put the shim and a fresh pollen patty on top where it should be. After feeding all six of my little colonies, I can rest easy (well, easier) for a bit. Spring is just around the corner (and so is pre-spring, which is time to amp things up a notch and turn these nucs into large, populous hives).
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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