A warm February day is a perfect time to lift the lid on the beehive to assess the strength of the hive. We were so happy to see that not only did they survive this especially COLD winter, they are great in number! For the hive to accomplish a strong build-up after surviving winter, they should have roughly four frames of bees alive. The four frames should be pretty full from top to bottom, not just holding a cluster at the top. We (I mean, they) pass!
The above photo is me crouching (without a veil, bad idea!) to look up from the bottom of the box so we can see how far down the cluster comes. Wanting to keep the draft of cold air out, it was a quick operation with a resulting terrible photo, but you can still see some bees all the way down and those shiny wings!
We were especially relieved *this* hive survived
I’ve done a terrible job keeping you all in the loop on this crazy beekeeping journey of last year. In a bare-bones re-cap, one hive survived our first winter. That hive did really well, so we split it into two and went the whole season with two strong hives. Then in the fall, one of our hives died. We really aren’t sure why. So we went into this last winter with only one living hive.
This particular hive has a great nature and a self-raised Minnesota queen. At some point in the past season, the hive decided their last queen wasn’t up to snuff, so they replaced her with this beaut!
This hive has also never been treated for mites because their counts come just under the threshold. Mite treatments are very commonly necessary for the hive’s survival. I’m crossing my fingers that not needing to be treated is telling of some good genetics, habits and vigor!
Beekeeping is one of those instances where you really shouldn’t judge before you know what you are talking about; just like how I thought I could tell which parents had good parenting skills before I was one.
Before I had the responsibility of caring for bees, I never would have thought of providing this highly processed sugar to them. I still don’t feel good about it, but it could save their life. It’s not that we didn’t leave enough honey for them to overwinter on. We did. We leave a lot of honey for the winter. The hive still has some honey, in fact, but things get dicey in the early spring and sugar can help them along. Here’s why:
By this time in the season, the queen actually begins to start laying eggs again. Once there is brood in the hive, the bees have to stay on the brood to keep it warm, or the brood will die. This is no problem when its warm out – bees stay on the brood, and bees go to the frame with honey on it to eat. HOWEVER, when these negative temps come rolling back in like what we just had in MN, the bees have to cluster together and will not be able to travel to a neighboring frame to get their honey. The cluster literally cannot move until the weather warms up. So, the whole hive can starve to death even with honey just a couple inches away.
By providing sugar along the top of the frames, the hope is that the cluster has access to calories along the whole width of the box even if they can’t get to their honey during those days of freezing temps. February and March can be a really vulnerable time for the hive. Thankfully, the forecast is looking warm and I’ve been seeing those bees buzzing to and fro in the sunshine!
What signs of spring are you observing?