Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Bees


Last weekend was unseasonably warm, so Robb and I took the opportunity to swap out one of the boxes on our Gloriana hive. The wood had started to crack, and Robb's attempts at repair had proven futile. Robb was concerned that the hive would get waterlogged, which would lead to mold inside the colony.

We don't have to worry about snow, like beekeepers in much of the rest of the country, but dampness is something we have to monitor. A soggy hive is an unhealthy hive.

Of course, other things than rain get into our hives. This impressive widow-like spider was hanging out, under the outer cover of our hive. The hive has two covers -- one is like a roof, and the other is like a ceiling. I believe this structure offers better weather-proofing than a single cover.

After some discussion, Robb flicked this spider into the undergrowth. Where I was planning on standing while I worked on the hive. Robb and I are not spider-killers, but I don't particularly relish the thought of a black widow climbing up inside my pants leg.

Good thing I had on my dorky-looking bee suit.

And boots.

Our bees have been flying, every day when it isn't raining. They're out foraging, which is pretty exciting.

They are also taking good care of their home. The bees collect plant resins that they form into an architectural glue called propolis. This material is used by the bees to plug up cracks and holes in their hive. Here, the bees have covered up much of a rectangular entrance hole, and reduced it to a bee-sized aperture.

You can see another type of this plant-resin-glue, in the photos of the spider. The red shiny material is also propolis.

What you're seeing in this photo is ripened honey that the bees have capped with wax. They'll eat this over the course of the winter. Robb and I did not harvest much of our bees' honey this year, because we really had no idea how much the bees would need to survive. Since most bees are not able to forage year-round, most beekeeping books don't give a lot of advice for our climate. How much honey would the bees need in their pantry? We had no idea.

If you look closely at this photograph, you'll see capped honey in the upper corners of the honeycomb. But you'll also see open cells, containing glistening nectar. I believe that our bees are bringing this in, every day.

Imagine that! There are enough flowering plants in our area, that the bees can collect pollen and nectar in December!

We did not keep the hive open long. We swapped out the damaged box, and only paused long enough to take a very few photographs. Bees maintain their hive at an interior temperature of about 95ยบ F. (They heat their hives in winter by flexing their flight muscles, which actually warms the hive.) Although it was fairly warm last weekend, we did not wish to chill the bees. This would surely be harmful to the colony.

One thing we noticed was a complete lack of drones, which are the larger male bees. As winter approaches, the hard-working female bees kick out the male drones. The drones do very little work in the colony, and are a drain on the food stores. I suspect that the queen also stops laying drone eggs during the colder months, and only starts again in the spring, which is mating season.

Interestingly, we spotted another "queen cup" which our bees seem very keen on making. If the colony needs to "make" another queen, they've already built the cell that would be her "nursery." You can read about these structures elsewhere on our blog.

I hadn't expected to write much about our bees this winter, figuring that we wouldn't be opening up our hives. As it is, the Gloriana hive is just booming. Bees are flying in and out all day long. The Elizabeth Taylor hive is much more subdued. We keep having to remind ourselves that most bees in North America are shivering inside their hive-boxes, eating honey and not leaving the hive at all. If one of our two colonies seems slow, it's still probably more active than bees in the rest of the country.


Anonymous said...

Hey, always love to hear about the progress with your bees. Have you named them all yet? I am sending your facebook story to my Uncle Walter Gojmerac who used to be Professor of Entomology at Wisconsin State University. I would ask him about any questions you may have about your bees..

I have also been looking thru some garden info I have here and I think that your local varieties of Chickweed, Lambs Quarters, Purslane and Dandelion greens would be a nice local mixture of garden salad greens, if you want to keep up with the indigenous plant-focused gardening.


Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I love that your bees have crafted their own entrance reducer! I'm with you, when in doubt, leave the honey. We'll no doubt do the same next winter when we have bees. I'd rather leave a little too much, than not enough. I'm not entirely surprised they're still finding some blooms. Even our rosemary is blooming fairly well at the moment, despite the recent deluge.

MamaKin said...

I love all the photos of your hive and that you give so much information about what's going on. I'm really getting an education here and it's so interesting.
I've never given a thought to where the bees winter over around here and now you have me interested in finding out.

As per Annalisa (waves) I remember having Dandelion leaves and long ago-about30 yrs but who's counting lol- I asked my BIL about a little plant that just seemed to grow everywhere no matter what I did. I wanted to get rid of the weed for good. He told me that it was purslane and it was good to eat. Live and learn :D

Anonymous said...

I dont know if you got the email I forwarded to you- Apparently bees in Wisconsin need to have 100 pounds of honey in their hive to make it thru the winter... California will probably be a bit different!



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