Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January Thaw

Record temperatures this morning, in the low fifties.  After a rare thunderstorm passed through, I went out to do a quick check on the bees in our remaining hive.  There were bees flying, which is a good sign.  I did use smoke, since the other day when I did a quick peek, just lifting the lid, one little bee quickly sacrificed herself on my glove, so I thought I'd better be more cautious.

Opening the lid, I saw the patty I had on top of the inner cover wasn't really touched yet.  Lifting one side of the hive, it felt pretty heavy, much heavier than the other hive when I discovered it was dead.  I removed the inner cover, which was covered with bees, and placed two patties directly on top of the frames.  Since I dumped some bees down in front of the hive off that cover, I set a frame with some honey on it for them to climb back up to the hive, hopefully getting a little treat on the way. 

 The bees looked good, and there were large numbers of them, which is promising.  

Unfortunately, the warmth this morning is the best we're going to do today and the thermometer will plummet to the teens tonight, with 2-4 inches of snow predicted and sub-zero temps tomorrow night.  Such is Iowa.  I'll need to go out later today to recover the frame.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sad Day

I knew it had to happen sooner or later.  I'd just as soon it be later.  Make that never. 

Taking a tip from Rusty, who has a wonderful website that she regularly updates with terrific, relevant info about beekeeping, I hiked out on this balmy, 39 degree January day to take a peek at the hives.  Approaching hive #2, which is the first I came to, I noticed right away a number of bees in the snow, spread out in all directions from the entrance, for about 20 feet.  This is pretty typical--the bees take off on cleansing flights when the weather permits, and some simply get too chilled to make it back to the hive.  The first winter, this drove me crazy as I tried to help individual bees make it back to the landing strip on the hive only to watch them fall over and die.  It's what happens.  I knocked gently on the side of the hive and even through the pink insulation I could hear a solid hum.
Walking over to hive #1, I saw right away there were no dead bees in the snow in front of that hive.  Knocking gently on the hive, then a bit firmer, there was no reassuring hum from within.  Uh-oh.  This was the hive that had produced two honey harvests this summer, giving us our best harvest in four years.  Just several weeks ago, on a warm December day, they were out flying happily.  What happened?
As soon as I removed the lid, I saw the small dead cluster in the center of the top box--pathetically small, given the thousands of healthy bees I encountered when I added the mite strips in late September. 
Upon examining several frames, I quickly concluded they had simply starved.  There was no honey, or very little, in the entire hive.  The picture below shows the story:  the frame on the left had been an outside frame in the box.  It was still full of honey, at least on this side.  The other frame was from the center of the box, and you can clearly see there is still honey on the edges of the frame but the center, where the cluster formed, was devoid of honey. 
So, we've suffered our first winter kill.  In four years, we hadn't lost a hive and they had come out of the winter, harsh or mild, in strong numbers each spring.  I worried last year because I knew the hives were a bit light going into the winter, which turned out to be one of the mildest in recent memory.  I was afraid the bees would be more active and eat even more honey than usual.  The hive emerged very strong last spring, with a lot of honey left uneaten.  This winter, I made sure, or so I thought, that the hives had more than a sufficient amount of honey to overwinter.  I was wrong both times.  It's very frustrating.  I guess now I can only second guess my assessment of how much honey they had in that hive and make sure to have them better prepared for winter next year.
I loaded the whole sorry lot on my toboggan and headed back to the barn, after first putting a food patty in hive #2, where I found a large cluster up near the top and even on top of the inner cover.  I will need to check this each week, weather permitting, to see if they need more.  Later this spring, I'll clean it up and get it ready to receive a split from the other hive and start it up again.  If, and fingers are indeed crossed, that hive survives as well.