Sunday, December 14

Closing Time

It was mid October and night temperatures had veered towards the freezing point or below. Time for all good bees to stay inside and keep the queen warm!

I'd noticed fewer bees leaving the hive during the day along with shortened days of activity. I'd done the final check of the hive and was ready to help them hunker down for the cooler months.

My first priority was to create adequate ventillation for the hive. In the winter, the bees cluster together, creating an internal temperature well past the 70s. With the freezing outside temperature against the walls of the hive, the heat generated by the hundreds of beating bee wings creates condensation inside of the hive. Condensation is, as far as I can tell, the biggest threat to an otherwise healthy hive as it overwinters.

If the liquid rises and coats the inside lid - and is not able to escape - it can pool and drip down onto the cluster. Imagine, a chilled droplet of water falling from the icy hive roof into the warm nest of bees. It damages their carefully calibrated temperature and can cause great harm to the cluster.

To prevent this, I glued matchsticks to the inner cover and pushed the outer cover forward, creating an opening across the top of the hive, so that air could breeze through and escape from under the eaves of the outer cover. (See photo.)

Finally, I closed up the hive and did a sweep across the floor of the hive. It's important to check for mice, who would love to snuggle inside and eat honey all winter. I put the entrance reducer in place with the larger gap as the opening. This both prevents drafts and gives the bees plenty of space to get out. (The smaller opening could be blocked by dead bee bodies as the population continues to drop.)

They're all inside and hopefully ready for what's coming. The only other thing I can do for them is to build a windbreak, wrap the hive in black roofer's paper and put a rock on top of the hive to prevent the cover from being blown off should any harsh winds hit. I will do those things if I feel like conditions get to be excruciating, but as for now, it's been fairly mild. I hope they make it...

End of the Season

{I meant to write this weeks/months ago, but never followed through. Here's a little note about the end of the active outdoor bee season.}

First of all, I continued to see elder bees leaving the nest. The one above is old enough that her wings have beat enough to destroy themselves.

Now, with the hive population and the temperature dropping, it's time to prepare for the winter. I did one last inspection of the hive - should have, but did not check to see if the queen was present - and made sure there was enough honey for them. I was shocked, actually, at the volume they'd accumulated since I'd initially been very concerned about it. Somehow, they had increased their stores to a level that indicated preparedness for the harder months ahead.

Also, I was able to see SHB's again. This was the second time I'd seen any, though I'd seen one hole through a comb at one point. (Their trademark: the beetles eat the comb and jump around from frame to frame, destroying everything and making life miserable for the bees.) Since they hadn't been visible for the majority of time I'd been inside the hive over the summer, I was less concerned about them. If they are inevitable, and they are not annihilating the hive, I guess I have to just cope with them, an extermination or pest-control plan in order for emergency use.

Finally, the closing steps in preparing the hive for winter....