Today the temperature was around 30 degrees and sunny in the afternoon. I decided to go to the club hives and see how they looked. We have about 8”-10” of snow on the ground, drifted higher in some places. Due to the location of the hives, I have to get there on skis this time of year. I did not take a camera along, so I apologize there aren’t any pictures to show.
The long hive had about five inches of snow on the top, with snow falling down around the sides. The entrance had evidence of use – it had been cleared enough for bee traffic, and not by humans. There were a few dead bees in the snow – enough to see the hive was alive, but few enough to show me they are smart bees, not going out and dying in large numbers. We only took one frame of honey off that hive, so I feel pretty good about its chances of survival.
The hive in the middle was the one we had thought at one point was queenless and didn’t have much hope for it. However by fall it started to gain weight, so we winterized it. It had evidence of bee traffic and a small amount of dead bees in the snow around it, too. When I looked closer at the top entrances, one of the little ladies poked her head out, looked at me and went back in – so YES! That hive is alive, at least for now.
The hive Irene Day insulated with the foam insulation didn’t have bees on the top of the snow. I did find some when I scraped snow off the lower entrance. It looked like there was a tiny bit of staining on the top box below the entrance. Hopefully it means they are doing well and are staying calm and still and being good bees. Spring will tell.
I chose not to try any feeding. As I think back about the season we were very frugal about taking honey off the hives, so there should be sufficient stores if the bees are smart. If they are not smart, I don’t want to propagate them. It sounds harsh and cruel, but our purpose is to breed northern hardy bees. That includes bees that can make it through the winter without us fussing over them. If we do our part and don’t take too much honey and leave plenty for them, then they need to do the rest. If they can’t, we need to replace them with ones who can.
We are already halfway through January. In another month there will be willow and maple pollen and a small amount of nectar for the bees (believe it or not). This winter has been more typical of a Michigan winter than last year – a roller coaster of up and down temperatures. Hopefully by insulating the hives we have helped the bees maintain a more constant temperature without needing to use too many stores. We need bees that can do that, and bees that can handle mild fall weather after hard frosts without using up their winter feed. I know I saw bees out all fall on the few asters, dandelions and even broccoli left to flower in my garden beds. Now we wait until spring to see if they do indeed survive.