With bated breath, I opened my hives this weekend. Saturday was a warmer day for us, with temperatures in the mid-60s. I watched the bees come and go from each of the three hives that had survived last summer and fall, and they were carrying loads of pollen into their homes. My girls were busy.
So I read a lot about honeybees. It turns out, though, that my reading material is the honeybee equivalent of Web-MD. Every single article tells me that my hive is going to die, and that it is going to happen next week, regardless of symptoms. Bees flying around? The hive is gonna die. Bees not flying? Hive is already dead. Pollen being carried in? This early, it is probably coming from Carolina Jessamine flowers, which kills bees. No pollen? Death by starvation is imminent.
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
My worry last week was that they would run out of honey stores before the flowers really started blooming. I have been reading all kinds of stories about bees that were active going into the last cold snap, and ran out of food. Essentially, during the winter, the bees just consume, since there is nothing to replenish their stores. Not exactly like they can head to the local Bi-Lo grocery and stock up. The bees have to wait for flowers to pop.
So a hive can literally starve to death, even after the worst of the winter is over.
First warm day that came, I HAD to see what my girls were doing. I needed to see three things:
- Are the girls bringing in pollen – to fill their need for protein? I already knew they were.
- Do they have remaining honey stores, to tide them over for carbo-loading until the flowers start blooming? This was my real worry.
- Is the queen laying? If she is reticent because she is trying to make the stores last until it is warmer, she might not have enough bees for the hive to survive when it gets warmer.
Short answer, my bees are OK. On all three counts.
Traditional guidance is to leave honey on the hive the first year. While your bees are establishing themselves, they need to keep all the honey so that you have a healthy hive to survive the winter. The guidance kinda falls under the rubric of ‘natural is best’, and is not without its critics. My mentor explained it to me: honey sells for $7.50 per pound. Sugar sells for $0.33 per pound. For me, he said, it is purely an economic decision. I will ALWAYS harvest any honey I can get, and feed the girls through the winter.
I believed him. But I did not have enough confidence to follow through. I joked that I was going to be leaving the honey in the hive the first year, just taking enough to let the girls know that their rent would eventually come due. But after a year of rent-free living, I explained, I am going to harvest.
All the same, all winter I wondered whether it would be enough.
So the great reveal: when I opened the hives, all three hives had remaining honey stores. I also got to see new stores being created, with uncapped honey in one box. Not a LOT of honey remaining – the flowers need to start blooming in earnest soon, so that my girls will be OK. But there is enough, for now.
I did not specifically spot any of the three queens, but the evidence of what they were doing was clear. In each box, there were between three and five frames with good brood patterns. My three queens – Maggie, Isabella, and Lady Xoc – are all laying well.
Even boys! Lady Xoc laid a section full of male bees, which means she is ramping up genetic markers for the next generation. (I might be a little happier if she was investing more in the girls, but if she is looking forward, I can, too).
As the weather warms up more, I anticipate a spike – more eggs and more larvae and more activity, as everybody gets sent out to bring in more honey.
The only down side of the news was that small hive beetles were EVERYWHERE. I have gone from being horrified at the presence of beetles to accepting them as a part of my hives. But they still bother me (I wrote, then erased, ‘they still bug me’). The truth of the beetles is much the same as the mites: killing a bug on a bug without killing the host bug is difficult.
Somebody long ago explained that you don’t use Beelzebub to cast out demons. Most of the time, I feel like that is what I am facing.
I have a bag of diatomaceous earth, and once the ground gets dry, I will spread it around the hives
so that the beetle larvae will crawl across the stuff and turn into larva jerky. I have to be careful not to get it anywhere the bees will crawl – after all, I don’t need honeybee jerky, as well.
Regardless, the outcome of the winter is solid good news.
Finally…. I am starting to prepare for more. New boxes, cleaning out old boxes, and spreading the word that I am available to catch swarms and remove bees. I got some business cards made, to help spread the word.
A young friend of mine knows that I love bees, and he included a drawing of a bee in a recent card, which I have scanned and incorporated into my cards.