Kathy, (aka "Bessie"), and I began our beekeeping experience in the fall of 2008, when we began a year-long course in beekeeping through the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We got our first package of bees in April of 2009. At the suggestion of our daughter, Jessica, we are logging our beekeeping experience. Hope you find it interesting. It has been interesting, rewarding and entertaining for us as well.
Nice thaw we're having right now. It won't prove to be enough to clear more than my driveway of snow but still much appreciated. I went out two days ago to look at the bees when it was about 34 degrees and did not see anybody out flying, just dead bees, bee parts (legs, wings, etc.) and wax cappings. Today there were a number in the air.
The hives, looking south
Some were flying quite nicely. We saw several return from some distance out. A few, of course, had difficulty and were lying on their backs. We helped a couple get back up onto the landing pad (hopefully the correct hive). There were quite a few more dead in front of the hives, along with some brown spots from their cleansing flights.
A few of the dead. Note the brown stains.
I saw one come buzzing noisily out of the hive and tumbled to the ground with the body of a dead bee firmly in its grasp. She said a few words over the body then returned promptly to the hive with no problems.
A couple of the bees buzzed me, checking me out. I think my large, dark coat perhaps was not the best attire to be wearing but, well, it is winter after all. We peeked under the hood and saw a number of bees through the inner cover slot in hive #1 but Kathy saw none in hive #2, though she heard a fairly loud, solid hum coming from the hive. The cluster must be lower in that hive.
Click for a larger view.
I did tip each hive from the back and found that both are still quite heavy, which was reassuring.
Hopefully we'll start getting a few more days like this (or even better??) in the weeks to come.
I decided to freshen up the blog a bit. Although it looks basically the same, I have added more of the blogs I follow, both devoted to beekeeping as well as some personal ones. I also put videos we have made at the bottom of the main blog page so they can be easily viewed, either here on or YouTube. Hope you enjoy the changes.
Our daughter, Jessica, completed the work for her PhD in entomology last summer. She and her husband, Matt, who is also an entomologist, live in upstate New York where Matt works on his research with crane flies for Cornell University. Well, Jessica has now gotten a post-doctorate position, also with Cornell, that will allow her to research the importance of bumblebees in pollination of the pumpkin crop in upstate NY, which is a major crop in the area. One of the variables she will be exploring is how the bumblebees compare with honeybees in their ability to pollinate the crops. I will be very interested in following her work to see what she discovers. Here in eastern Iowa, I clearly see bumblebees as being very important in the pollination of so many things. I think they cover much more territory, as far as kinds of plants, than my honeybees. The honeybees really seem to me to be much more selective (translate "picky"). So, we're excited for her in getting the position and also excited because of the nature of the study, a subject we're quite interested in as well. Good luck Jess!
I've been making the short trek out back to check on the bees every few days. So far, things seem to be pretty normal. A few dead bees are typically found on the landing pad each time and, when I listen to the side of the hive, I hear a nice, solid hum from within. I've also been checking the slide-out tray I have in each hive bottom. I built them so the tray slides out from the rear of the hive. I use it to check on varroa mites (yes, they are certainly present). It also helps to monitor the activity in the hive in the winter. I keep a sheet of sticky paper on each, or sometimes just a sheet of paper perhaps sprayed with cooking oil. I look for the rows of wax cappings that accumulate on the floor between the frames. This tells me the bees are actively feeding. This is a good sign, since I often seem to read someone's account of their bees starving to death within inches of good, capped honey. Feeding bees, in my mind, are healthy bees. I always worry if there is enough food, especially since our winters lately seem pretty harsh, but so far so good.
I am thinking about slipping in some hard sugar candy, perhaps later in February. I've never tried the candy before. Some suggest just putting in some sugar on top of paper on the top of the hive frames, but I might try the candy this year. Last year, I put on sugar water feeders in the spring and the bees really never consumed any of it. They still had a generous supply of honey left in the hive, and hopefully this year will be the same. Can't help but worry, though.