As is common in our area after snow, the temperatures soared today to allow for some much needed melting. This time last week, we were just getting dug out from our record snow fall and the temperatures remained cold for several days. Today, however, the mercury rose to a whopping 60 degrees! The sunrise above indicated a beautiful day was on tap and it truly was refreshing for us all, including our honey bees.
By mid morning when I heard the melting snow running through gutters and saw the puddles and streams of water running every which way, I decided to check on the bees. I was greeted by teams of bees zooming around their hives. Having seen that the thermometer registered 50 degrees, I wasn’t so surprised to see them out as much as I was curious to know what was going on.
Fearing a dwindling food supply, I donned my veil and gloves early afternoon when temperatures reached the upper 50’s. I was fully suited since winter intrusions are certainly unwelcome and absent the smoke from my smoker to calm them, it was up to me to keep the peace. I’d need to move carefully to avoid killing any bees and stressing them any further, yet swiftly as the concern for chilling their vital brood supply is always of concern.
The brood is critical from here out as the old bees that ventured into winter will slowly die and give way to the young bees that will need to accrue for spring foraging. As February begins and snows melt, winter is long from over, but early foraging will soon appear, first in the form of skunk cabbage in our area which is often found allow streams and in forested areas. I know when they find it as the bees will fly on 50+ degree days and return with pollen pouches full of this beautiful pale green pollen, likely from the skunk cabbage. Beekeepers with a greater sense of smell than I will report that the hives stink a bit from it, yet it’s an important early pollen source needed to rear young brood while the bees await dandelions, tulip poplars, black locust and clovers which signal the critical nectar flow.
Warm days like this allow the bees to readjust closer to honey frames and other resources if needed and to go out for cleansing flights, eliminating waste, as well as conduct some housekeeping often in the form of removing dead bees from the hive. Interestingly enough, the bees that do this are referred to as undertaker bees. There was plenty of evidence of all of this going on when I visited my hives. The snowy ground in front of the hives was littered with dead bees, dark yellow splotches of bee pee was evident in the snow and the bees were up in the top boxes, investigating and eating some of the resources I had added.
No two hives are the same. Having multiple hives can be quite useful. Resources can be shared if needed from frames of honey to frames of brood or drawn out wax comb. Trouble with one is often easier to identify when there’s another to compare to and helping a failing hive is easier when you have a stronger hive to take from and help boost them. Both of my hives seem strong and full of bees, certainly a welcome sight in the middle of winter and encouraging going forward. Yet, they have different needs and desires. The one hive had eaten away all of the sugar I put on the paper and a good bit of the pollen patty. There were bees on the candy as well. But the other hive had not touched the sugar. So I replenished the sugar and added another strip of pollen patty in one and added a small piece of candy to the other. It seemed they were both in good shape though with pollen patty pieces and bee candy yet available. I will continue to provide resources should they need it as I can’t see what’s going on deeper in the hives and this is the time of year when hives are lost to starvation.
As I was wondering about them earlier, they too were curious about me and what I was doing, landing on me, investigating my supplies, discovering pollen patty pieces I had out ready to put in the hive. Fortunately, they weren’t angry as there wasn’t aggressive buzzing or dinging of my veil, just curiosity on a warm winter day when bees can fly.