Mid-Winter Observations

Mid-Winter Observations

It’s February 1st, 2011, and winter has finally settled in for St. John’s, Newfoundland. The snow is likely to hang around until April (bluh), so it’s more the beginning of winter than mid-winter, but we’ll call it mid-winter. It’s less depressing that way.

Our two winter-wrapped first-year honey bee colonies have been living off their honey stores for a little over 70 days. We added some sugar cakes to the hives a few days ago because the bees are clustered heavily on the top frames, which can indicate they’re running out of honey. I’m not so sure about that. I suspect it could be natural behaviour for cold-climate honey bees with Russian and Carniolan genes, but it’s safer to feed them hard candy than risk starving them out. Each hive now has around 2 kg of hard candy sugar cakes (about 4.5 pounds) and the same amount waiting for them in our fridge if they need it later on.

We haven’t seen too many cleansing flights so far (a.k.a. washroom breaks). Judging from sights like this, I can tell they’ve been holding it in for a while.

I’m concerned they might develop dysentery or Nosema (video) if they don’t soon get a few warm days so they go outside and poop. Apparently nice clean granulated sugar in the form of sugar cakes can help clean out their systems. Other than that, what else can we do?

I didn’t notice any moisture build up inside the hives when I installed our insulated inner hive covers a few days ago after adding the sugar cakes. Before that, our set up was simple: an inner cover in the winter position with a piece of R-7.5 insulation on top. It’s good to know a simple piece of insulation does the trick. I had to install the insulated covers only because they provide more room for the sugar cakes. Temperatures have dropped significantly since then and I’ve noticed condensation dripping from the lip of the top cover just outside the top entrances of both hives. At least it’s not inside the hives. I’ve also noticed ice build up temporarily blocking the bottom entrances. I think most of that ice comes from melting snow outside the hives than inside, so I’m not too concerned about it.

My only other minor concern is the piling up of dead bees on the bottom board inside the hive. When the bottom entrance is clear, I can see dead bees inside. I know the worker bees will eventually pull out the dead bodies, but I’m wondering if the openings in our home made mouse-proof winter entrance reducers are too small for them to get the dead bees out. I might remove the reducers and clear out the dead bees myself with a thin stick. The bees aren’t clustering anywhere near the bottom anymore, so I don’t think it would disturb them. But I might be better off leaving it alone. Are piles of dead bees inside the hive a problem? I don’t know.

The majority of the bees aren’t dead, though, so overall I’d say things are going well. I hope we get a few warm days so they can clear out their digestive tracts. Weather permitting, we might add more sugar cakes in a couple weeks if they need them. We’ll give them some pollen patties by late February and get them started on some sugar syrup sometime in March to get their numbers up for early spring. That’s the tentative plan anyway. There’s still a whole lot of winter ahead of us, but so far so good.

PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates create more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

5 thoughts on “Mid-Winter Observations

  1. Thanks for the link to the nosema video. I’m on my second winter with my bees and haven’t experienced nosema before, so the description of the symptoms in the video was very helpful. We reached 45 degrees last Saturday and I noticed my bees out relieving themselves. They’re looking good at this point!

  2. Here in Cape Breton most of my bees spend the winter in the top boxes or about half way between. The bottom boards will be full of dead bees in the spring. Some hives more than other, but that is normal as the older bees die off. I think your bees are doing just fine.

  3. The long range forecast doesn’t call for above freezing temperatures until March 4th:

    If the forecast is correct, the bees are on their own at least until March. Hopefully the candy cakes will pull them through. I’ve actually seen them eating the candy cakes, so I don’t think they’ll be starving any time soon. Though I’m curious to check out the frames in the spring to see how much honey they consumed. Clustering on top of the frames can indicate they’ve run out of honey stores, but I’m still not convinced. I’ve read on some forums that given a choice between honey and sugar cakes, some colonies prefer sugar (just like some kids prefer junk food, I suppose).

    At any rate, it looks like the hives won’t get any pollen or extra sugar cakes until March. They’ve had the sugar cakes for about a month now. It’ll be interesting to see how much of the cakes they’ve eaten.

  4. I spoke to soon. The forecast was wrong. It went up to a balmy 2°C in the backyard this afternoon. We added extra pollen patties and candy cakes. Videos and photos coming later today.

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