Thursday, December 10, 2009

December

Well, it has been awhile since I've posted. I'm sitting here on the day after the season's first big snowstorm, 8 inches of heavy, wet snow following by 30-50 mph winds. I'm looking out towards the hive, which is a bit hard to see because I decided to wrap it with styrofoam for the winter, sealed with duct tape. I have the outer cover pushed forward and the inner cover notched to allow them access from the top of the hive, but I want to go out later and make sure drifts aren't covering the bottom board access. I'll wait until it warms up a bit, though with a high of about 7 degrees today the high won't do a whole lot.
We made it through the season with no stings! Kathy talked with Glen, a long-time beekeeper who taught where she did and he said that is a bit unusual. I think, though, that for the most part we tried to be calm, cautious and careful, not rushing things. I was probably the more cautious. We actually did get attacked the last time we opened to exchange feeding cans. We gave them about 3 coffee cans full of sugar water. A mass of bees was clinging to the bottom of the empty can and Kathy decided to brush them off. They didn't care for that too much and we were stung several times but none penetrated the gloves or clothing. It was late October, fairly cool and I knew they are more temperamental this time of year.
I debated about the feeding. With the price of sugar, it hardly seems cost effective, especially given that we had no honey this year. The hive bodies are very heavy, or were the last time I actually picked one up. The upper of the 3 was very heavy, full of sealed honey. After reading the forum at Beesource.com and checking through the several books we have, I was even more confused since some recommended no feeding to others saying they definitely feed the bees. So we gave them some. I just want to make sure they get through the winter ok. I will feed in the spring as well. Once they are fully into their second year, unless there is a very poor honey production, I probably will not feed as much.
I did modify the bottom board on both hives (only one active now, though, remember) so that I have a #10 screen (from Dadant) and space underneath the screen, with access at the back of the hive, to monitor for mites. After treatment, I did have a fairly large mite count, probably 1-3 per square inch. We used the apistan strips, which were a real pain to remove. We had a nice, warm October day but the strips were really stuck in propolis. I am going to examine alternative mite treatments for the future; also, not real keen on extensive use of chemicals.
So, aside from just monitoring things like keeping snowdrifts away and doing research, there isn't a lot to do now. I do follow fairly regularly the posts at Beesource and also now subscribe to the BEE-L listerv. You can follow that at this web site, which includes information on subscribing:(http://community.lsoft.com/SCRIPTS/WA-LSOFTDONATIONS.EXE?A0=bee-l).
I find the beesource a mixture of beginner information as well as technical information, personal experience, humor, etc., while the latter seems to be much more technical in nature and deals in much more depth on disease and information valuable to commercial beekeeping operations. You still find an occasional newbie post, however.
This spring, I plan to split the hive. After deliberation, although I plan to research this more this winter, I think I will order a new queen instead of risking having the bees make their own. I know the latter is a more natural method, but I think that is the way I will proceed. Until I learn more, I think that is a safer way for us to go.
We have regularly walked out and checked on the bees. Even just a couple weeks ago, Kathy observed some of our bees on very late broccili blossoms in the garden. We never did have a full killing frost until this last storm, so there were still a few flowering things around. If the temps got into the upper 50's or 60's, there were always some bees flying around near the hive. They do like to get out if they possibly can.
I'll continue this in the spring, and try to stay warm in the meantime.