Video of a Winter Cluster

UPDATE (March 02/11): See Adding Pollen Patties for a better view of a winter cluster.

Winter Hive
The weather has been mild and dank in St. John’s, Newfoundland, since November, but winter is shifting into a higher gear now. The winds are picking up and the temperatures are taking a dip. It was only about -5°C today, though the wind chill factor made it feel like -20°C. (American readers can convert that to the antiquated, nonsensical Fahrenheit scale by typing “-20 C in F” in Google. Get with the 21st century USA!) It was the first relative cold spell the bees have had to deal with this winter and I was curious how they would react. I’ve read contradictory stories about the behaviour of clustering bees over the winter. Some clusters start at the bottom of the hive and move up as winter progresses. Others move to the top only on really cold days when they can use the extra bit of heat that may rise to the top of the hive. And some clusters are all over the place. So I wanted to see what my bees were doing. And what I saw when I shone my flash light into the upper entrance was pretty darn cool, at least for a first-timer like me. It doesn’t matter how boring it is, if I haven’t seen it before, I’m thrilled. So here’s a boring video of something that thrilled me:
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Selfless Winter Honey Bees

I’m too busy with work and life to post much these days. I hope to post a review of an excellent book on honey bees soon, and I want to update several posts from this past year (I know significantly more now than I did then). I also need to order some pollen for late-winter / early spring feeding. Both of my colonies are still alive, but I’m not sure if they’ll need any feeding to get through the winter, which really hasn’t kicked in for us yet. It’s just now starting to get cold. Anyway, I took a few photos of some frozen bees in the ice and snow today. Check it out:

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Mid-January Hives Are Still Alive (Video)

Our two hives have been wrapped since November 21st, 2010. That’s about 50 days. We had a little snow near the end of November, but it’s been mild and damp ever since with temperatures averaging between -5° and 5°C (23 to 41°F). Then we got hit with about 40cm (or 16 inches) of wet snow last night. I doubt the bees have consumed much of their honey stores with those mild average temperatures, but I’ve been concerned about the moisture inside the hives. It’s been an exceptionally soggy winter so far.

It’s still too cold to inspect the hives, but blowing into the top entrances provides a simple way to see if the bees are still alive, and it doesn’t bother the whole colony. If all is well, only a few guard bees will buzz up to the top entrance to scare away my bad breath. Here’s the video:

A few guard bees don’t guarantee the whole colony is alive and well, but I’m going to take it as a good sign. All the snow is likely to melt within a week. After that, I’ll lift the hives to check their weight. If they’re light, I might have to give them some candy boards or paddies. If they’re still heavy with honey stores, I’ll leave them alone until mid-February. I’ll probably feed them some pollen paddies by March no matter what. We’ll see.

UPDATE (Jan. 18/11): It’s probably better to simply shine a flash light in the top entrance instead of blowing in it. Unless of course the cluster is in the bottom brood chamber. Then I guess blowing is more affective.