Bee-ing hopeful in the dead of winter

The bees are still alive!  I saw them yesterday.

Today a boatload of snow is falling… to be followed by frigid temperatures and a sub-zero wind chill.  Already, with hours of snow yet to fall, gusts of wind whip clouds of snow off the roof and swirl it around the yard.  The bees and sensible humans are tucked inside where it is warm. Yesterday, however, when the temperature soared into the low 50’s, we were all out and about.

Look closely--bees coming and going at the entrance and at the lid.  Hive A.

Click to look closely–bees coming and going at the entrance and at the lid of Hive A.  There’s a lot of bee poop in this picture too.

In Maryland, humans spent the warm day before a snowstorm stocking up on bread, milk, and toilet paper.  Quite a few also took advantage of the warmth for some exercise along the NCR bike trail.  It was a good day to be outside.  The bees also found it agreeable.  Bees don’t emerge from their hives unless the temperature is about 50.  When I stopped by for a look, the reading here was 45.  They are on a protected hill and wrapped in tarpaper, so they clearly felt safe to emerge.

Boy, did they need it!  Recent weather has been so bizarre that one day my French III class reviewed most of their weather vocabulary just by discussing local conditions in the preceding 48 hours.  We’ve had sub-zero temperatures with howling winds followed by snow and ice, sleet, and freezing rain.  We’ve had temperatures pushing 50 degrees with rain and flood warnings.  Throw in some fog and a chance of thunder.  We’ve had pretty much anything winter can throw at us. These are challenging conditions for the honeybees at Maywood.

Sunday a week ago was our first chance to venture to the bee yard since Christmas.  It’s not just the extreme cold that is worrisome, but the drastic changes in temperatures.  How well do bees handle a plunge to  minus 2 and then up to 50?  We slogged through the muddy yard to see.  The temperature was still in the 40’s so we were not expecting too much.  To our delight, Hive D was showing activity!  There were a few bees on the entrance porch of their hive and another cluster of bees up near the top of the hive, entering by the lid entrance.  We were very encouraged to see them moving about.  Hives A and B each had one bee on them.  Hive C showed no signs of activity.

Hive B.

Hive B.  Click to see the bee flying back to the hive.

Yesterday, there were bees at each hive.  Coming and going. Doing a little basking on the hive lids.  I was so encouraged by the activity at the hives that I sent Mr. Beekeeper photos at work to warm his little heart.

So what do bees do to recover from one extended stay indoors before the next one hits?  They take cleansing flights.  In other words, they go outside for a good poop.  Bees, being a clean society, do not pee or poop inside their hives.  An extended cold spell means they just have to hold it.  (Some of my students could learn a lesson from them.) Needless to say, bees like a warm winter day as much or more than we do!

Hive C.  Bees coming in for a landing after their cleansing flights.

Hive C. Bees coming in for a landing after their cleansing flights.

Today is a different story.  The recently relieved bees are huddled together to maintain a 92 degree warmth.  Mr. Beekeeper and I, wrapped in new chenille sofa throws, will snuggle by a toasty fire, secure in the knowledge that the bees are still ok and we are well-stocked with toilet paper.

(Correction:  forget the toasty fire.  We seem to be out of cut wood.  I guess we’ll snuggle to the glow of our Ipads.)

At least we have bread, milk and toilet paper.

At least we have bread, milk and toilet paper.

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