I did a quick peek at three hives today. The weather stinks, but the colonies seem to be in pretty good shape.
I have three colonies in another location that I haven’t been able to check on for a month now because I got busy and then I got sick with a flu. But the seven that I have in what passes for my little beeyard next to my house don’t look too bad to me.
I don’t think I have a single hive that’s like any other hive this winter. Some consist of two deeps and a medium, or a deep and two mediums. Some have hard insulation over the inner cover, while others have none. Some have ventilation rims, one has a ventilation “box,” while another one has a moisture quilt. Some have rims to make room for emergency sugar feed, while others have empty mediums or shallow supers instead of rims. Some have emergency sugar and some don’t. Some have protein patties, while others don’t have a thing. Some have clusters over the top bars and a few have clusters so far down that I can barely see them. One is set up on the base of a D.E. Hive with the bottom entrance on the wide side of the hive, though the top entrance for that hive is on the narrow side if that makes sense. The only thing they all have in common is that they’re all painted black, they’ve been buried in snow since January 17th, and they’re not wrapped (a huge experiment and a big gamble). But they’re okay.
Postscript: It’s time for an impassioned rant.
I’ve heard from a few new beekeepers in recent weeks who were afraid to open their hives this past winter because they were told never to open their hives in the winter — and subsequently their bees starved to death because they didn’t check on them to see if they were running low on honey. What the hell, man?
I’ve completely dismantled and rebuilt hives full of bees in the middle of the winter and the bees came through in the spring like pros. Last winter, one of my hives had the top blown off it in a snow storm (I’ll post of video of that eventually). Those bees were exposed to snow and freezing rain for a full week — they didn’t have a roof on their house for a week in the middle of a crappy Newfoundland winter — and I’ve never had a colony come through in the spring with such vigour. It was kind of amazing.
In my experience, there is little reason not to open a hive in the winter time if you’re concerned about the bees. It seems better to check on them to see if everything is okay in there than to “let the bees be bees” and let them potentially starve to death, or have a shrew eat away at the cluster (I’ve seen both, and more).
It bothers me when I hear from new beekeepers who needlessly lose their colonies because someone told them to leave the bees alone as much as possible.
I’m stumbling through this beekeeping business like everyone else. I don’t have the means to sign up for a Master Beekeeper degree, but I’ve made huge mistakes over the years that I’ve learned well from (I hope), and I’ll never stop making mistakes because that’s how I get better at what I’m doing (I hope). I think I got lucky by not having a mentor to tell me what’s what from the beginning. Not that I haven’t had excellent teachers, but I largely work without a net and after blindly following some bad advice when I started, I’m at the point now where I barely listen to anyone. I’d rather make my mistakes, follow my instincts and learn the hard way than be misguided by someone telling I should never do this, that or the other thing.
Seriously. It really bothers me when I hear from a new beekeeper who lost their bees because someone told to them to always leave their bees alone. It’s not the first time I’ve seen new beekeepers lose their colonies because they were too afraid to bother their bees. If I didn’t stick my face in my hives every couple weeks for the first few years of my beekeeping, including the winter time, I wouldn’t have learned anything. Yes, there may be some risks in doing that, but the risks of not doing that could be worse.
Messing with my bees more than I should have was the best education in beekeeping I could have given myself. And maybe it still is.
At any rate, I don’t think it hurts to open hives in the winter time. It’s better than letting the bees die.