To Bee or Not to Bee,

that is always the question in the spring with beekeeping.  Will the bees make it through the winter?  Cold is not usually the problem but starvation, moisture, and disease are.

January 29, 2012

Last fall our bees benefited from  all the goldenrod and New England aster we have around them and harvested lots of pollen well into the fall.  But I was still concerned that they would have enough stores to take them through the winter.  It was a late, wet start to the summer and we had them start from scratch when we switched them from foundation to foundationless frames.  I put a peaked roof on the hive so that the snow would not build up too much. I put a strip of vapour barrier along the peak to keep water from leaking in.  Then I began to wonder if that was such a good idea.  Bees in a cluster produce condensation when they breath.  If that moisture doesn’t escape, it can kill them.  Perhaps that strip of vapour barrier along the peak of the hive would stop the moisture from escaping?

And the first indications were not good.

It’s not unusual to find dead bees on the snow. They go on cleansing flights and sometimes don’t survive. The carpet of dead bees in the bottom of the hive, though, was a shock.  Had they starved? Had they succumbed to one or more of the many diseases that bees have to deal with? Had they frozen because there was too much moisture in the hive?  It was very upsetting to think that I might have killed the bees because of my ignorance.

But then a week later with more warm weather……………….

March 13, 2012

And I saw a couple of bees with pollen sacs full.  It’s too early for pussy willows or aspen so someone must have crocuses in flower.  And today, with temperatures reaching 19˚C, they were doing a lot of foraging and returning with bright yellow pollen.  Wherever I walked in the garden, I was met with inquisitive bees trying to figure out if I was a pollen source.

So the bees have survived the winter but there is still a risk of starvation.  Although the 14-day  forecast calls for daily highs between 9 and 19 and lows between 3 an 11,  it’s still very early and it’s likely that they don’t have much left in the way of winter stores.

Nonetheless, I’m a lot happier than I was a week ago.

More pictures.

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2 Responses to To Bee or Not to Bee,

  1. Happy to see their fuzzy little buzzing bodies. Someone near us has a bee hive and during the warm weather, they were all over our compost! Must have been the sweet smell of fruit waste or something. Then a big silver maple went into flower and they were happily gathering from it. In fact they did this last year too which was our first growing season at this place so it was nicknamed: bee tree.

    • MikeH says:

      Yeh, it was touch and go and I’m still not sure that they’re safe yet. With the erratic nature of this spring, we could easily have a couple of weeks of unseasonably cold weather. The pussy willows are now flowering so that helps a great deal but there isn’t a much else yet. They have really been taking to the sugar water which suggests that there’s not much for them to forage on. Putting out sugar water is always a risk since it can lead to robbing. Scouts from another hive find the sugar water and then find the hive with its honey. If they are a stronger hive, they will overpower the hive and rob it of its honey. So far, so good.

      Last year I started some bee trees from seed and planted them out last fall. At the rate they grow, the bees will be enjoying their nectar in a few years.


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