File this one under “Another Slow News Day.”
What do rotting honey bee corpses look like in the middle of February after being buried in snow for a couple months? This:
We had a heavy rain storm over the weekend that melted and washed away most of the snow and revealed the bottom entrances of the hives that have been buried for much of the new year. I knew I’d see more dead bees. The old-timers seem to fly outside the hive and die. Several hundred of them are scattered around the yard, little black dots everywhere on the crusty snow. Sometimes the dead are removed from the hive, but I get the impression corpse-removal becomes a lower priority in the dead of winter when it’s hard enough just to stay alive. The bottom board of our one foundationless hive is nearly blocked with dead bees. Dead bees are accumulating in the other three hives, too, though not as bad.
Our bees were clustering above the top bars in late December, which could mean they were running low on honey. That’s why I fed them on January 1st. The foundationless hive probably was running low on honey, but I’m still not convinced about the other three hives because they seemed to be full of honey going into the fall, and today I saw something that finally reinforced that belief. Within two weeks of feeding the hives raw sugar, the bees in the three conventional hives disappeared from the top bars. I couldn’t see them through the top entrances of the hives — and I still can’t. All I can see is a slightly broken up layer of hardened raw sugar over the top bars. No bees. So just to make sure I didn’t have a bunch of hives full of dead bees, I got down on my knees in the snow, practically on my back, and looked up through the bottom entrances with a flash light. (It was too cold and windy to do any kind of invasive inspection.) I heard them before I saw them. A nearly imperceptible Zip! Zip!, not so much a buzz. I put my ear to the open bottom entrance. The smell of a human close by must have alerted them because they were definitely buzzing now. I cleared away more snow so I could get my head even lower, and with my flash light on the super high & super narrow beam setting, I could see the bees clustering near the bottom of about three or four middle frames. They were thick and they were moving. Dead bees don’t do that.
So it appears the bees in the conventional hives are clustering in the bottom boxes again. They went up to the top in December, I fed them sugar over the top bars in January, and now they’re back in the bottom — presumably eating away at their plentiful honey stores. This is all guesswork on my part, but it’s the best I can do.
The foundationless hive, on the other hand, requires no guesswork. Those bees have been clustering above the top bars since December and have continued to cluster high in the hive since I fed them on January 1st. They’ll need more sugar as soon as they can get it.
And I promise I won’t post anything again until I have something at least more substantial to report.