Yes, Fridays are normally time for me to ramble on about some aspect of writing, but this week I have bees on my mind. Also, I haven’t posted about my bees since the spring robbing fiasco so I’m well overdue for a bee post.
Winter Isn’t Coming, Mr. Stark. It’s Here!
This week the Portland area (and many other places) got whacked with a dose of winter weather. Temperatures tumbled and streets, trees, and beehives got covered in a sheet of ice.
And of course, I got panicky about my bees.
This year, my second beekeeping year, I’ve taken a more laissez faire attitude toward my bees. Last year, I was inspecting them every week, worrying over where they were going, fretting that the comb wasn’t arranged like the bee books show it should be, and basically being an overprotective bee mom.
After the robbing (aka “let’s attack the beekeeper lady”) incident, I let the hive settle down for a few weeks. Once they realized I wasn’t the equivalent of the bee devil, I quietly stole a few combs of honey that should be enough to satisfy my sweet tooth until next year. That was in late June. Sometime in July, I tidied a few things up and put in some new bars, but pretty much let the bees do what they will.
But with this cold snap, the overprotective side has kicked in again.
Let the fretting begin!
The problem with bees in cold weather is that they need to stay warm and they need to have enough to eat. They stay warm by huddling together in a cluster – think of how warm a crowded party gets.
Unfortunately, around late summer/early fall, the bees kick a good majority of the crowd out of the hive. While this (hopefully) ensures they have enough honey to nibble on, it makes the cluster smaller. A smaller cluster means less bodies to bump up the temperature within the hive and it means less “surplus population” if things get tough. And I worry things may get tough…
- Worry Number One: While my hive was jam packed with bees this summer, the cluster that is left is very very small.
- Worry Number Two: Because I haven’t checked the hive since summer I’m not certain how much honey the girls have to eat.
- Worry Number Three: It is too damn cold, too damn early, not only making things tough on my bees, but giving me no chance to get in the hive to do a quick honey inventory.
Trying to Let Nature Take Its Course
Despite my worries and despite the fact that I will try to peek into the hive if the temperatures and rain cooperate, I need to remind myself that these are wild creatures and they do know what they are doing.
I also need to remind myself that my bees are tough. The girls came from a feral swarm in April 2013, made it through a tough winter last year, and are adapted to conditions in the Northwest – including crazy weather swings. (Purchased bees are often trucked from warm climates and may struggle in cooler areas.) And since my hive swarmed this spring, I am hopeful that they are a healthy and vigorous bunch of ladies.
Another bonus: My bees are healthy. Although horror stories abound of the rampant diseases and pests honeybees succumb to, my bees have been disease and mite free which means they won’t be wasting their energy trying to overcome any illnesses.
Doing What I Can & Learning from the Past
Last year i had the brilliant idea of taping a black garbage bag over the top of the hive with the thought that the black would act as a solar heater and the plastic would keep moisture out. Well, the solar thing may have worked, but the plastic also kept moisture in and created a wet mess under the roof. I won’t be doing that again.
If the temps do warm up and I can get a sunny day while those temps are up, I do hope to get into the hive to put in a follower board (a solid board that hangs into the hive) to confine the size of the hive – smaller spaces are easier to heat.
I have been able to tape off a couple of the entrance holes to help the bees retain their heat. It’s not the most attractive thing in the world, but the tape is the equivalent of storm windows for the bees.
I’m resistant to feeding my bees. I didn’t feed them last year and I do have the attitude that they know what they’re doing and that they’ve already done their prep to see themselves through the winter. And I’ve done my part to help. I purposely don’t take more than a few bars of honey and only take the honey in early summer to give the girls plenty of time to bulk up their stores for winter (keepers who take, take, take honey are the ones who find themselves scrambling to feed their bees). Still, i would feel better if I could take a peek and see how much honey they have to munch on.
Sitting & Waiting
For now, all I can do is sit and wait. It’s a fretful time and I annoy my husband by wondering how the bees are (and joking that we should bring them inside to warm up), but this is beekeeping and you just never know what will happen.