I started feeding bees again today. I have been hearing of severe losses and I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. So with out any fanfare, I loaded up some Mega Bee patties and headed out for a look-see.
At this time of the year the ground is still frozen here in Connecticut and therefore it’s a great time to collect dead outs and check stores before mud season begins. My first stop was a large wintering yard where I usually have fifty or so hives during the winter. This year I put forty eight colonies there. About half were full sized colonies and the remainder are single story colonies that had been queen mating nucs that I built up to ten frames to winter over. I hadn’t been there since last November when I stopped feeding.
I lifted the first cover– DEAD, @#$%, this looks bad! I lifted the next cover– ALIVE, the next –ALIVE, the next– ALIVE, and so on and so on! Out of forty eight colonies, I only lost two!!! Needless to say my anxiety levels plummeted. I went to the next yard and lost two out of ten. The next yard, all ten alive, the next yard, two out of ten dead. I came home and checked my home yard, Two dead out of eighteen! Went to a yard in Brooklyn eleven of eleven alive! I have to be honest and say that I have a few that look very weak and won’t amount to much for a long time if they even make it till April. With all things considered, it appears that my winter die off will be a lot lighter than many beekeepers are experiencing. I attribute this to the thousands of dollars I spent last fall feeding to not only prevent starvation, but also to get the queens laying brood for winter bees. The payoff is that I will not need to buy bees to replace dead outs and will have plenty of bees to increase another fifty hives and also raise some queens.
As I find dead out hives, I load them onto my truck and bring them home to clean up in the warmth of my shop. One thing that I do in the field is make sure there are no signs of American Foulbrood and then separate the combs of honey to feed to colonies that are light on stores. This is a very easy way to save a starving colony. Even with the temps in the thirties, I can pull out empty combs and place full ones either side of the cluster. This causes minimal disturbance to the bees and the reward far out weighs the stress of working hives in the cold. I give all colonies a Mega Bee patty and close them up. I feel that it is still a little early to feed sugar syrup and as long as I have some combs of honey to feed the needy, I will wait a couple weeks to give syrup. This is the benefit of starting my spring feeding in September! If the bees have lots of food then few will be starving in February. The ones that die, generally do so from other causes ( like mites) and usually will leave honey to feed the hungry ones.
When I return home I try to immediately get to cleaning up the empty hives. In years past , I have stacked them up outside and got to them “later”. Sometimes that “later” turned out to be more like April and May. By then the dead bees and some of the stored pollen would have started to mold, resulting in far too many ruined combs. Nowadays, I brush off the dead bees and then scrape propolis and burr comb immediately. I can then cull the old dark combs and recycle the old wax. Any rotted boxes or bottom boards are turned into heat in the wood stove. I seldom repair more than a broken rabbet on a hive body and usually burn all but the best of the melted out frames. They are just too much work to clean up and reuse.
Now would be a good time to mention my solar wax melter. Several years ago, I made one that will hold five deep frames and seven medium frames. It works great in hot sunny weather. Most summer days I can run two batches. On one day when it was nearly 100 degrees out , I had the interior temp at 206 degrees! Last year we had so much grey weather that it went weeks in a row with no action. The end result was that I lost a lot of wax that just rotted or got wax moths. I have an alternative of a very large pot to boil wax in, but with propane prices as high as they have been, it didn’t seem worth while to render them that way. I think that I will make a second solar melter this year then be able to process them twice as fast. It’s worth mentioning that while I don’t get all the wax from the combs, I do get the best of it with little further processing needed in order to use it for waxing plastic foundation.
As is usually the case , I have wandered from my original topic and need to get back to the point. While I have not yet checked half of my bees, things look good as spring approaches. Each year is different and I am sure that this year will bring it’s own share of challenges. I hope we have a good crop of honey because last year was just rotten! One thing is for certain, it feels good to be back working bees even if I am wearing a winter coat while doing it.