The Beekeeper’s Blog: Spring And All?

382

In the words of William Carlos Williams’ poem, Spring and All, and by the road to the contagious hospital, we have passed into the first day of Spring with school closures, snow, and cold. But today, with 75 degree weather in the forecast, I not only can think about my bees, but I can also see my bees.

Since my last bee blog entry, on a warm day in February, I learned that one of my hives, the Queen Benedetta and her subjects, had passed away over the winter; may they rest in peace. I had seen many dead bees at that hive’s doorstep during the winter. So when the weather got warm, I wasn’t too surprised to notice that the girls from that hive were not coming out of cluster and flying around to relieve themselves, as would be normal for a warm day at that time of year. I pulled apart the hive, and all I could see were dead bees.

Dead bees spilling out of the bee doorway

I cleaned up the boxes looking for clues as to why they died. I did see a lot of brown splatters next to the entrance hole from the last break of cluster, which is indicative of nosema, a bee version of diarrhea, only worse. That could not have been helpful to the girls’ survival through the winter time. I also noticed some mold around some of the dead bees in the comb. It made me re-think where I had located that particular hive. It was located deeper in my woods and received very little sunlight. The ventilation is also not that great, and it is very wet up here.

Dead bees coat the bottom of the hive box
Brown splatters, indicative of nosema

As an experiment last year, I had moved the other hive box to a spot where it would get more sunlight, and that colony, Queen Beyonce and her bees, was doing great that warm February day. As I would expect, they were out and about, peeing and pooping everywhere. Earlier, I had treated both colonies for varroa mites with hop guard, but only one survived.

Continuing to problem-solve the demise of Queen Benedetta’s colony, my solution for this upcoming season was to move this now-dead hive nearer to Beyonce’s castle, where it, too, would receive more sunshine. I cleared the boxes as well as I could, and I got PK to help me haul them over to the developing apiary, now 2 hives large, in the sunny part of the yard nearer to the street. We set up the 2 hive bodies, and I brought the super box with honey into our basement. I lined the openings of the empty hive bodies with wine corks and screened the bottom opening to protect against wax moth invasion, one of my biggest bee fears.

Benedetta’s hive moved out near Beyonce’s hive so the next colony can get more sunlight

It wasn’t all sad, however, since I had Beyonce’s hive flying all around in happy bee flight. I quickly called one of my bee dealers, and ordered a new nuc for the Spring, which will arrive sometime around the tax deadline, April 15th. Always a glass half-full person when it comes to my bees, I saw it as a cost savings that I only had to buy one hive! Wahhhoooo, go Beyonce!!!

I also slapped on a feeder with a light sugar syrup on the top to start feeding the bees just in case we had more warm days, so that there would be something out there for the girls to eat. I was happy I did so, because while I was in Mexico over the winter, I learned about the week of warm weather that Annapolis was having. Having had some foresight to provide food, I was less uptight about my bees.

As an aside, a friend who was keeping an eye on my bees while I was away, texted me that warm day in February. She reported seeing a whole bunch of bees attacking her bird feeder and asked me if I knew anything about that, which I didn’t. It got me thinking, though, and I Googled this information recorded by a jolly beekeeper in Maine who offers some interesting explanations and solutions to the “bees in the bird feeder” issue.  Apparently, bees do this when they are searching for food and haven’t found anything else. It turns out that I had properly anticipated this situation, and done the right thing by slapping on that feeder. I am starting to feel like an experienced beekeeper.

Today, I sit on my deck, enjoying the warmth, giving my dog Bayou a break from his “cone of shame” which he has to wear as he recuperates from ACL reconstruction. As I keep an eye on him, I work on my bee blog, and photograph Beyonce’s girls buzzing around the hive bringing in pollen. The hive is coming alive today, and the queen must be laying. I try to downplay the worry of “swarm” as I work.

Bees foraging and bringing back pollen to the colony

 

Bayou, taking in the sun, the warmth, and the sounds of Spring

If my hive is really healthy, they may swarm, producing a new queen and taking half the colony away with them. I need to go into that hive and see what is going on: find out how many bees are in there, reverse the hive bodies and put the queen on the bottom of the house and let her work her way up again, and look for developing queen cells. But for now, I’ll just breathe deeply, ponder William Carlos Williams’ words about spring, and take my cues from Bayou. Relax, enjoy the bees, enjoy the warm day.

Help the Arundel Patriot continue to bring you excellent journalism.