Tag Archive | open

Open Feeding Pollen to the Bees During Winter

January 27, 2018 (Saturday)

It’s late January and fortunately for the bees, Maryland temperatures are like a mild roller coaster.   It warms up every week or two, allowing them to relieve themselves, get some exercise, and forage for food.  I feel sad when the girls are outside the hives scanning the yard for pollen and there’s nothing but dead trees and brown grass.

A friend recently sent me a video of bees hovering around her bird feeder, foraging on seed and corn.  She then followed it up with an article that explained how bird seed and corn are often laced with pollen.   So if you see the bees giving your birds some competition at the feeders, now you know why.  Of course, the lightbulb went off and I kicked myself for not having fed dry pollen to the bees sooner.

Commercial beekeepers free-feed dry pollen or pollen substitute to their bees in colder months, so I decided to give it a try.  I’ve seen them layer the pollen inside of a piece of gutter pipe or something that would protect the pollen from blowing away, and would also provide some coverage incase of rain.  I’d only put it out on warmer days when the bees can get out.  The pollen would need to be replaced regularly to prevent it from getting icky.  You wouldn’t want the bees eating icky pollen.

I happened to have a sizable PVC pipe that I’m thrilled to have found a use for.  It’s nice and heavy and won’t blow away.  I spread a thin layer of pollen substitute across the inside, and also sprinkled some on the ground around the pipe.  The location should bee at least 50 feet from the hives, to prevent a robbing frenzy (less risk of this in the winter, but still, better to bee safe).  I placed it in a raised garden bed that the bees were already attracted to.

As you can see in the video above, it worked very well.  The bees found it quickly and really seem to enjoy it.  So note to self, when the temperatures rise, don’t just feed the birds….put some pollen out for the bees too!

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Do Bees Hibernate?

January 31, 2016 (Sunday)

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Temperatures got up to a whopping 54 degrees today!  After weeks of freezing temperatures and a 3ft snowfall, I finally had the chance to check on my girls and restock their candy supply. 54 degrees is still somewhat cold for the bees.  I certainly wouldn’t start pulling out frames and breaking apart boxes until the temps are at least in the 60’s.  Below 50 degrees, the bees begin to cluster.  Bees need to cluster in the cold because that’s how they generate heat and stay warm.

What Bees Do During the Wintertime

People often ask me if the bees are hibernating.  Well, bees don’t really hibernate.  Yes, they collect food to prepare for the winter, and yes, they stay in their hives during temperatures below 50 degrees.  Once the temps drop into the 40s or lower, the bees cluster around the queen and they use their wings to generate heat.  The larger the cluster, the more heat they can generate and the better chance they have of surviving the winter, as long as there’s enough food in the hive to keep them from starving.  Bees don’t sleep.  They work around the clock…each one has a role and a purpose.

Opening the hives in temperatures below 50 degrees risks breaking the cluster.  Best not to disturb the bees in the cold.  When the cluster is broken, or when bees get separated from the cluster in the cold, they can freeze.  So my rule of thumb is, if I see the bees out and about, then it’s ok for me to open the tops of the hives and add candy.

Checking on the Girls

I schlepped up to the hives to find them flying in full force, and judging by the blanket of bees atop the blanket of snow, they’ve been super busy cleaning house.  This is a good thing.  They clean all the dead bees and debris out of the hives whenever possible.  This helps prevent disease and keeps the colony healthy.  They’ve also been busy taking orientation flights (another term for much needed potty break), and bringing in pollen.  Yep, the little buggers found pollen in this desolate white land.  Gotta love their spunk!  It was a happy sight, indeed.

RIP Green Hive

I’d been anticipating the demise of Green Hive since the last time I’d checked on them.  Lots of bees were flying in and around the hive.  I also noticed some bees fighting at the bottom entrance (shown below).  A sign that Green Hive was being robbed by the other bees.

I opened the top and sure enough, the other bees were robbing the remaining candy and honey, and Green Hive’s cluster stared up from between the frames in a dead, frozen state (shown below).  Not one of my prouder moments as a beekeeper since I decided to take them into winter with two boxes rather than combining them with a stronger hive.  Another lesson learned…

Freezing temperatures are best for preserving dead hives since parasites won’t infest the hives as long as the temperatures are freezing.  Once things start to warm up in March, I’ll clean it up and get it ready to take in a new split colony in the spring, along with Blue Hive.

Recycled Swarm Trap

As I walked around the garden I noticed that the swarm trap that had been left up since last spring, has been claimed by some other form of wildlife.  I suspect squirrels.  They chewed large holes in both sides, and another hole that appears to be stuffed with garbage – plastic, paper, and who knows what else (shown below).  Well, if it couldn’t house a swarm, then I’m glad something else found a good use for it.  We’ll build another one in a few months and hope that it catches more swarms than this one did.

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After this weekend, we’re all back in cabin fever mode.  Hope it won’t be too long again before we get another reprieve.  Stay warm everyone and let’s hope Mr. Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow.  Early spring would bee nice :o)