Monday, January 25, 2010

Intruders?



I slogged out through the wet snow yesterday to check on the bees. I first looked at the number of bees around the hive and saw a few more than I had seen previously and also noted the distance some had flown, presumably on their cleansing flights. Bees don't like to poop in their own house so if it is warm enough (just above freezing for highs the past several days), they will fly out and relieve themselves. You can see the little brown spots easily in the snow. Some bees were perhaps 25 yards from the hive, dead in the snow. I saw one fly out of the hive, do a little circle and return safely. I listened with my ear to the side of the hive and heard a reassuring, solid hum from inside the hive.
It was then I noticed a chunk of styrofoam and some of the duct tape on the front left corner of the hive had been torn away.
For winterization, I wrapped the hive in 1 inch thick sheets of foam, secured with duct tape. Looking closer, I also noticed some of the bees seemed to have been eaten. Previously, I have almost always found whole, intact bees, but now I saw just some body parts. There also seemed to be some kind of debris in several spots near the entrance. Some critter has been trying to get in.
With the slight warming trend, temps just above freezing, some mammals have surely been out and about a bit. I looked for prints but only saw a number of deer tracks. It is possible a deer nibbled at the styrofoam to try it out, just as they strip bark and tender branches from our fruit trees. Other suspects would include skunks, which are known to raid hives and eat bees, oppossums, or raccoons, probably in that order. There could also be mice, though they would not have torn the styrofoam away like that.
At any rate, to discourage any further intrusions I brought back a roll of 6 foot fencing and encircled the hive. Hopefully that will do the trick.
Temps this week are to drop again, with more snow and lows at or near zero later in the week. We're getting a bit concerned about the bees with the length of the winter and the cold. February is when many hives start to have problems with food supply. I'm really hoping for one warm day to pop the lid and check things out or at least to tip the hive to check to see how heavy with honey it continues to be.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January deep freeze

I go out regularly (about every other day) to check on the hive. We've had a lot of snow lately, and I've gone out to make sure the entry-ways are clear of snow. Each time I go out I find about 4 dead bees that have been pushed out onto the apron of the hive. This tells me the bees are still ok inside, regularly clearing out the dead bees. We have been experiencing some very cold January weather here in Iowa, with wind chills tomorrow morning in the minus 30 range (up to 15 below F actual temp). I have been following the bee listserv and there are some very interesting reports by some posters, including one who opened his hive to check the status even when the temps were in the single digits farenhiet. He is an an experienced beekeep and seems to know what he is doing but it seems to go against everything else I've read, most of which says to open a hive in those temps is a formula for disaster, but he seemed to take it in stride. Some posts are concerned even about the vibrations from nearby snowmobiles causing the hive cluster to break up, which would cause them to drop in temperature and suffer as a result. Others poo-poo those concerns, such as the person I described above. I know I certainly do not want to open the hive until spring, but am not concerned about my clearing away the bees on the hive entrance anyway.