Long live the queen

Getting a new hive of honeybees established is exciting but sometimes exasperating.  Lately it has been more exasperating.  Last year was so exasperating that not one of our new hives managed to survive even the summer.  We strongly suspect the problem was the queens.  When they arrived last year, the queens were so small we could barely distinguish them from their attendants. (Yes, queen bees have attendants.) In hindsight, we question the regal stature of those “queens.”  So this year, we ordered three new bee packages from a different supplier.

Two months after installation of this year’s packages, two hives are ready for second hive body boxes.  The third hive shows very little activity.  Mr. Beekeeper inspects the hive and finds very little brood and a dwindling number of bees. Exasperating.

But lo and behold! A queen cell!  How exciting!

The hive has recognized its problem and has chosen to raise a new queen. Why last year’s hives did not do the same is a question worth pondering. Why this hive needs to re-queen is another question.  Did the queen die?  Was she ill? Was she…gasp…old? Was she just a poor lay-er?  (This reminds me of my sister and her poor laying hens.  She shrieked death threats at them and the very next day, they resumed laying.)

Queens cells take eight days to hatch from the time the cell is capped.  About ten days after spotting the capped queen cell, we take a peek inside.  The queen cell is now empty.  We look for the queen.  This is sort of like Where’s Waldo–find the one bee that is longer than the hundreds of other bees.  Fortunately, the bees are only on a couple of frames, one of those frames is exclusively capped honey, and the other frame is where the queen cell was.  And we find her!

Now we wait.  The new queen needs two weeks to get established.  She must exit the hive for mating flights with drones.  There are drones visible in the hive and a few drone cells waiting to hatch.  There are also plenty of drones buzzing around the other two hives.  Our queen will not lack opportunity. And then she must get busy laying eggs.  In about three weeks we will peek inside again, hoping to see lots of new brood cells.

Here’s hoping we will still be excited in three weeks.

Spring SnowBees

There are 58,000 bees in the basement.

58,000 bees

58,000 bees

Snowy Chives in March

Snowy Chives in March

It’s the end of March. We turned the clocks to “summer time” two weeks ago.  Last week the vernal equinox made it officially spring.  Today we took delivery of four new packages of bees.

And it’s snowing.

At 9 a.m.  we head to Snyder’s Apiary in Whitehall, windshield wipers brushing snow from the glass. The car thermometer reads the outside temperature as 28 degrees.  Out at the apiary, the countryside is dusted white and snow “flurries” blow sideways in the wind, whipping our faces.  Beekeepers in winter coats greet one another with snide remarks about the great weather.

Why, you ask, are we getting bees when it is so cold outside?  Because one orders bees weeks in advance and the Snyders drive down to Georgia on a scheduled day to pick up the orders in a truck.   The bees have arrived.  We have already paid for them.  We must take them home.

snowbees 2 w beeguys

BeeMan and Junior BeeMan carry 16 lbs of bees to the car.

Junior Beekeeper comes with us this morning.  He helps carry the bees to the car.  They take up the entire back seat.  A few Klingons (“cling-ons”) try to hitch a ride too, but without the advantage of the warm group hug in the bee boxes, they won’t last long.  Sure enough, back home, when the boxes are removed from the car, a few motionless bees remain on the back seat.

No, we don't buckle them in.

No, we don’t buckle them in.

Alas, it is too cold to put the new bees in their hives.  Tomorrow will be better and the rest of the week will be perfect, with temps in the 50’s and sunshine.  So for now, 58,000 girls (and a very few guys) will have a little sleepover in the mancave.

Today's conditions for the snowbees.

Today’s conditions for the snowbees.

Conditions downstairs are almost ideal.  The mancave is heated  only  by a woodstove.  With no fire going, the temp is 55.  And the only light is from the door.  With the overhead lights off, it is both cool and fairly dark.  A few bees buzz at the screens of the boxes but, for the most part, the bees quietly huddle around the caged queen and a can of sugar water.

They can’t get out.  Really.

4 pounds of bees

4 pounds of bees

The bees can stay in the package boxes for up to five days.  That includes the time they spent traveling from Georgia. Today is probably day three.  If this cold weather were to last all week, we would have a dilemma on our hands.  Fortunately, it won’t, so we don’t.  BeeMan has enough to do prepping the hives for the new residents. Cleaning out the Room of Outer Darkness to install a temporary apiary is not on the Honey Do List.

Tomorrow the bees will be installed in their new homes–outside in the bee yard where they belong.  Maybe then we can pronounce the beginning of spring.

The daffodils are trying to bring Spring.

The daffodils are trying to bring Spring.

 

 

Bees in the mancave? How cool is that?

It started as a joke at choir rehearsal.  The bitter winter killed off all the bees and some wise guy suggested that we bring them inside for the winter.

Roars of laughter as we all contemplated John and the bees watching football in his mancave.

More laughter at the death glare I shot at my husband because I know the wheels are spinning in his brain.  He has already been scouring the internet.  How do bees survive the winter in places like Idaho?  They bring the bees inside to potato cellars, which are dark (so the bees sleep) and a constant temperature (cool but not cold).

Alas, people are  researching this.  Granted, they are not researching it for the backyard beekeeper, but the information is out there…

Research is currently being conducted on controlled environment wintering. A temperature somewhere in the mid- or low-40° F (5° C) range, total darkness, ventilation to reduce excess moisture and humidity, and fall feeding of Fumidil B to suppress nosema disease are some of the major considerations. Provision for refrigeration should be considered also because sudden warming spells in late winter or early spring could result in undue restlessness and activity within the controlled-environment room. Colonies on flat-bed trailers that can be rolled outdoors or back into the room during warm or cold trends also would be desirable.

http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/overwintering-of-honey-bee-colonies/

It looks so innocent from this side of the door.

It looks so innocent from this side of the door.

Unfortunately, we have such a space.  It is the room of outer darkness.  The entry is through the death trap known as “Dad’s Workshop.”  Well, that’s what the sign over the door reads.  It’s more like a holding bin for every man-toy needed to do any man task, a conglomeration of total disorganization amidst whiffs and piles of sawdust.

The room of outer darkness is a full cinderblock basement room under the side porch.  In an earlier vision of our house, the side porch was going to be a library-sunroom but we eliminated it to save a few thousand dollars and because it was over-the-top not needed.  However, by the time the room was cut from the project, the basement was already in place.  (Don’t even ask.)

The room of outer darkness is underground with–duh–no windows, so it is dark.  Being below ground, it maintains a constant cool temperature.  It is ventilated, so air circulates.  It could  be a good wine cellar, except that we can’t keep wine in the house long enough to bother storing it way back there.  And there is very real danger involved with walking through “Dad’s Workshop.”

So, is the outer darkness the right kind of “cool” for the bees?  The main mancave, when the woodstove is not on, stays in the 50’s, which is  great for using the treadmill but too warm for hibernating bees.  Mr. Beeman would have to monitor the temp in the outer darkness to see how cool it really is. The last thing we would want is bees waking up to take a cleansing flight in the mancave while we are watching TV.

That raises another question.  Can bees last an entire winter in a cool, dark room without occasional bathroom breaks?  This winter was difficult, not just because of the bitter temperatures, but because of the extended stretch of days that never went above 50.  Bees take advantage of balmy winter days to relieve themselves.

Would the bees be better off outside with better winter protection? Rusty, at Honey Bee Suite, successfully overwintered by using a quilt board and wood chips.  Moisture in the hive is a bad as cold, and the woodchips successfully insulate and absorb moisture.  Mr. Beeman might want to check out the following link:

http://www.honeybeesuite.com/how-i-overwintered-ten-out-of-ten/

Fortunately, Winter 2015 appears to be over.  New bees arrive (we hope!) the end of this month.  That gives Mr. Beeman an entire season to research the dilemma of Winter 2016 and to maybe clean out his shop and the room of outer darkness.  Hmmm…if overwintering the bees inside gets him to clean out the basement, it just might be worth it.

Ha!

What’s in Your Freezer?

Forget the wallet. There’s nothing in there but club cards to stores I frequent. What’s in the freezer is a much more interesting topic.

Certain current and former colleagues will recall a Christmas party at our house at which we revealed little freezer bags filled with skinned squirrels, frozen in all their scrawny nakedness. The ensuing conversation revolved around all the staff members who had ever eaten squirrel. Based on the number of people who had eaten squirrel, one would not have thought that we were advanced degreed educators living a mere hour from the sophistication of Washington D.C.

In our defense, I must say that those squirrels ended up in a very tasty French recipe,soaked for three days in cognac. Ok, I personally couldn’t eat the meat,having watched the squirrels splayed on the ping pong table being skinned, but it was quite a flavorful stew.

Then there was our (third) daughter’s wedding where the groom had to be warned not to open the green trash bag in the mancave freezer. It contained a decapitated deer head, with antlers of course, awaiting a trip to the taxidermist. The deer, in all it’s taxidermied glory, now watches over football games wearing a Raven’s cap. The freezer is currently available for things like ice cubes.

My niece’s husband recently got a deer with a very nice rack on it and he wondered if he could store the head in our freezer. Ha ha, no. John suggested he put it in his father-in-law/my brother’s freezer. I’m guessing that went well…I haven’t heard yelling from my brother yet.

Our currant unorthodox freezer arrangement involves bee hives. Bee hives can not just sit around in the mud room. Critters like them. Ants, for starters. And wax moths, for keeps. After spinning the honey in July, the honey box sat in the mud room for a little while. To ensure that no unauthorized squatters had taken up residence, Mr. Beekeeper put the frames on ice. A little time locked in the freezer will kill off unwanted pests.

The difference between freezer storage versus fridge storage is that stuff can stay in the freezer indefinitely. It might get freezer burn, but it doesn’t get moldy or liquefy and drip into every inaccessible crevice. It sits there gathering ice crystals until you have to make room for something else. It may be inedible, but it doesn’t smell bad. Hey, my mom used to put garbage in the freezer so it wouldn’t stink up the trash.

The current batch of hive frames will be ousted soon. We have a dead hive whose hive box has been taken over by wax moths that need to die. Freezer as execution chamber. Some people store dead stuff in the freezer till trash night. Others store stuff in the freezer to kill it off.

So what’s in your freezer? And don’t tell me it is full of apple pies and peach cake. I will believe you but I will be bored.

September Bees–and Moths for the Freezer

Happy healthy Hive A

Happy healthy Hive A

The honey bees are busy with the last burst of blooming weeds that cause humans so much distress, so bee season has not quite ended here.  However, we have not inspected the bees in awhile.  A gorgeous summery weekend in early fall was a great opportunity.  (Especially since the next two weekends will find us on the road.)

 

Lots of brood in Hive A.

Lots of brood in Hive A.

The good news from the bee yard is that Hive A is strong and healthy.  No honey from them, but we did not really expect any this first year.  Hive D, the provider of our July harvest, has several frames of capped honey in the second honey  box.  Mr. Beekeeper decided to leave the honey box on a bit longer because the goldenrod is still blooming and (the real reason), because he did not bring the fume board with him to enable us to take the honey.  So there’s some fun to look forward to…a little fall harvest.  To those of you who are weeping desperate little tears hoping for honey, I’ll let you know what we have when we get it all into jars.

A peek at the fall harvest.

A peek at the fall harvest.

And now for the beekeeper worries…

Small hive beetles can ruin a hive and its harvest by breeding in the bee's brood cells.

Small hive beetles can ruin a hive and its harvest by breeding in the bee’s brood cells.

Small hive beetles were seen in Hive B.  This is not ok.  There are a variety of ways to eliminate them, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.  On the chemical side, Checkmite+ is  a varroa mite control that will also deal with beetles.  It is authorized for use in Maryland.  However, Mr. Beekeeper already bought Apistan for fall application against varroa this season, so we won’t be buying Checkmite+.  It also is a heavy duty chemical attack and the beetles do not seem to be that prolific.

There are non-chemical options for physically trapping the beetles.   Traps vary in design and placement in the hive.  What they have in common is a physical trap for the beetles to fall into and something for them to drown in, like mineral oil, vegetable oil, or vinegar.  One calls for a mixture of water, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and ripe banana peel.   That sounds like too much work.   I’m looking at getting a type that hangs between the frames, with a simple oil bath to drown them.  I am fully aware that the bees may seal the thing with propolis, because they like to seal things with propolis.  But these traps are cheap and disposable.

Propolis is the sticky stuff bees make to seal the hive.  It's a real pain to get off countertops.

Propolis is the sticky stuff bees make to seal the hive. It’s a real pain to get off countertops.

The hive is dead and full of wax moths.  They can do serious damage to the hive structure.

The hive is dead and full of wax moths. They can do serious damage to the hive structure.

Hive C is, alas and indeed, dead.  And completely ruined by wax  moths.  Mr. Beekeeper stopped up the entrance to prevent stray bees from going in and, more importantly, moths from coming out.  There were many cocoons in the hive. He will be removing the hive and putting the frames (wrapped in plastic bags) in the freezer to kill off the moths before cleaning the frames and storing them in plastic for the winter.

What killed off Hive C?  Was it the wax moths? Or was it a weak queen?  This is a hive that survived last winter but has been (along with Hive B which has the beetles) slow to build all season.  Did the queen die and the hive fail to produce its own queen?  Did the moths get established in a weak hive or did they seize the opportunity to take over a dead one?

A puddle in the hive, most likely from condensation.

A puddle in the hive, most likely from condensation.

Hive D continues to thrive but opening the lid revealed a puddle of water, presumably from condensation from inside the hive.  Some online  searching offered many solutions for winterizing the hives to avoid condensation, but it is not winter yet.  I do not have any ideas at the moment, but do know that condensation in the winter freezes, and cold, wet bees die. (Beekeepers, your suggestions are most welcome!)  Aside from water on the lid, the bees were busy in the honey box and several frames have capped honey for us!

So many questions.  Here’s one I know some of you are thinking: What else does she have in her freezer?  And oh, the tales we could tell.  But that’s another post!

Group work.  What are they doing?  Probably guessing what I've got in my freezer.

Group work. What are they doing? Probably guessing what I’ve got in my freezer.

The Newbees Have Arrived

20140425-150027.jpg

 

It’s a brisk morning, but delightful on the porch, where I am swaddled in a blanket, sipping hot coffee. From the comfort of my porch swing and the warmth of a sunbeam, I watch as BeeMan comes and goes from the bee yard. He is getting the hive ready for the new bees.

 

More bees than you want to count!

More bees than you want to count!

Yesterday we drove out to Whitehall to pick them up. Out the lane past the horse farm, along the road past the freshly manured field–so odoriferous the farmer had to post a “sorry for the stink” sign. (He should also have offered free car de-odorizers!) North we go, past the winery, the alpaca farm, a dairy farm, a sheep farm, a cattle farm. Finally, we come to a barn by a non-descript little rancher. Beyond the barn are dozens of beehives. In the barn are hundreds of boxes of bees.

Mr. Beekeeper ordered four pounds of Russians bees. He is given four pounds of Italian bees. It was too cold down in Georgia. No Russians are ready. Are you kidding me? They’re Russian. Do they need little balaclavas to keep them warm? The BeeMan thinks the Italian bees are more aggressive and prone to robbing other hives. Still, we accept the bees and bring them home to join all the Russian bees in the yard.  Let’s hope they can peacefully co-exist.

How does one bring home four pounds of bees? In the back seat of the car. We probably should have buckled them in. The box fell over on sharp turns, so I had to hold it straight for most of the ride home.

Shoulda buckled them in!

Shoulda buckled them in!

Back home, the bees were placed in the mud room. Mr. Beekeeper was feeling under the weather, so the bees would spend the night inside rather than going straight into their hive. We checked on them before going to bed ourselves. They huddled all together, quiet in one big four pound clump. Awwww. How often do you get to see a hive of bees sleeping?

(This is sign of experienced bee keepers. The first time we had a package of bees in the house I was freaked out. Those bees had arrived via U.S. Postal Service. The post office had called at 6 a.m. to tell us to come get the bees. I spent the day at work thinking, “There are thousands of bees in my basement!” Now I watch them and say, “Awwww! Aren’t they cute?”

As the sun rides high in the sky, we don our bee gear and take the Newbees to their new home, Hive A. It doesn’t take long to dump them in and set up the sugar water feeder to get them started.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box.  The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box. The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen box is installed in the hive.  This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The queen box is installed in the hive. This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started.  Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started. Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

A peek in the other hives...

A peek in the other hives…

We peek in the other hives. Hive D already has a honey box on and is filling the comb with nectar. Nothing capped yet. Hive C is busy building up into the second brood box. Hive B has a second brood box but is not making much progress. BeeMan has doubts about the queen. The joy of beekeeping…there is always something for him to worry about.

Hive A settles in. Mr. Beekeeper will pop down often to keep an eye on them. They arrived at a good time. The red maples have finished flowering, but today honey bees were all over the black cherry blossoms. That bodes well for a cherry harvest as well as for yummy honey!

Honey frame or brood frame?

Honey frame being filled

Happy to have 4 hives full!

Happy to have 4 hives full!

Bees alive as glaciers recede at Maywood

Let It Bee Spring--Beekeeper starts the season

Let It Bee Spring–Beekeeper starts the season

It’s sunny and positively balmy with temps in the 50’s as we trudge through the snow to get to the bees.  Some parts of the yard still measure six inches of snow.  This snow is not uniformly melting so much as it is receding, like a slow moving glacier.  Or, to think more positively towards warm beach days, like the tide going out.  Winter tide.

Down in the  bee yard, we are delighted to see three hives busy, with bees coming and going and buzzing and sunning and enjoying the day.  We have exited winter with more  bees than ever before. Red maples are budding and these bees are ready to charge into spring.

Hive D is thriving

Hive D is thriving

Tar paper comes off.  After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Tar paper comes off. After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Today’s task is to unwrap the hives from their winter protection of roofer’s tar paper.  Mr. Beekeeper also wants to set up the hive feeders.  The bees are ready to go, but there is not much for them to get to yet.  Red maples are the first flowering tree for the bees.  Fortunately, in spite of the semi-glacial look around here, the maples are waking up right on schedule. Why are humans so desperate for spring to arrive and then so surprised that it actually does?

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Lids come off the hives to remove the tar paper.  We get to peek in at the bees.  They look so happy.  They buzz around us, landing on our jackets and hanging out on my camera.  Are they as happy to see us as we are to see them?

The bees don't know that they can't take selfies through the viewfinder.

The bees don’t know that they can’t take selfies through the viewfinder.

They are happy to bee with me.

They are happy to bee with me.

Little bee, don't freeze on the snow!

Little bee, don’t freeze on the snow!

The golden burr comb is a delightful contrast to the snowy ground and the emerging mucky mud of March.  Yet, here and there, single bees lie frozen on the snow.  I wonder, do they die because they landed on the snow?  Or did they land on the snow to die?  I watch one crawling slowly across its frozen landscape, slower and slower, and finally not advancing.  I lift her off the snow.  She warms up and takes flight.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Hive D, which went through winter with two boxes, is going gangbusters.  Mr. Beekeeper decides to go ahead and switch the boxes.  The top box–where the bees have been clustered all winter–gets moved to the bottom.  The bottom box gets put on top.  This will encourage the bees to build up.  Literally.  Soon, Hive D will get a honey box.  Maybe next week.

Back in the house, Beekeeper Man orders another package of bees to replace the hive we lost over the winter.

And another season of beekeeping begins.

Yay!

Golden honeycomb...a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

Golden honeycomb…a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

Snow Bees and Honey Butter

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter.  And maybe even a backrub.

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter. And maybe even a backrub.

There’s a break in the weather.  After a foot and a half of snow, Mr. Beekeeper trudges out to the tractor to plow  before the next batch of snow comes in this evening.  The “break” means that it is merely raining.  “Merely raining” means that the foot and a half of snow is  getting packed down.  He will be out on the tractor for hours.  And then it will snow some more.  It might be nice to do some cooking for him.  I’m thinking pumpkin bread with his homegrown pumpkin and some honey butter using our Maywood honey.

But first, a trip to the bee yard.

One of the advantages of cleaning out a closet is finding things.  Often it is useless stuff the girls left behind when they moved out, but today I have found snow pants.  And they fit! So, even though it is lightly raining, I don snowpants and boots for a trek through the snow.  I can’t access the yard from the driveway because John has plowed a wall of snow there (which I will back into with the car until it melts), so I exit the house from the screen porch and wade through knee deep snow to get to the bees.

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax.  Who names a winter storm "Peace?"

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax. Who names a winter storm “Peace?”

I’m feeling bad for all the hard work John is doing plowing, but it is no easy hike to the bees today.  I have marked my walking stick in six inch increments.  Even packed down with rain, the snow still measures 18 inches with every step I take.

Hive B

Hive B

Down at the bees, the hives are putting off enough heat to keep a slim gap between the snow and the hive.  I only look at Hives B, C, and D.  Beekeeper Man determined recently that Hive A is kaput.  Probable diagnosis: dysentery.  (My last bee post commented on signs of dysentery on the hive.  With all the cold weather preventing more frequent cleansing flights, they succumbed.)  However, three hives are still hanging in  there.

Trudging back up to the house, I am tempted to swoosh snow from the garden bench and take a breather.  In the drizzling rain.  Visiting the bees seemed like a good idea when I was heading down to the bees.  Well, I’ve gotten my heart rate up and had a little workout, so even if I haven’t worked as hard as John, I won’t feel guilty having some pumpkin bread with honey butter.

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

***********************************************************************************

Here’s my ratio for honey butter:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup Maywood honey

I blended the two with my immersion blender.  This is because I couldn’t find 2 matching beaters for the hand mixer, but the immersion blender worked better anyway.  So creamy!  The honey we have on hand right now (from the hives we lost last year) is really dark and loaded with pollen.  John spun it from the brood frames after losing the bees.

************************************************************************************

And here’s the recipe for the pumpkin bread:

  • 3  1/4 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1  1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh, not canned pumpkin (mine was frozen, then thawed in microwave)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs (I used jumbo sized)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put all dry ingredients into large bowl and mix together with spoon.  Add all wet ingredients and the nuts.  Mix until combined.

Pour into 3 greased bread pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Test with toothpick for doneness.  My loaves took an extra 10 minutes or so.

(I found this on Allrecipes.com.  The recipe originated from the mother of V. Monte, who used canned pumpkin and added 2/3 cup water.  Reviewers suggested eliminating the water, especially if using fresh pumpkin.  Even without the water, this is a yummy moist pumpkin bread!)

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

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.

In the bee’s midwinter

In the bee’s midwinter frosty winds made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Snow was falling, snow on snow, snow on snow

In the bee’s midwinter not so long ago.

beesmidwinter2

Ok, so I changed a couple of words.

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch.  But he got the job done!

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch. But he got the job done!

Winter has hit hard with the New Year.  Six  inches of fresh snow blanket Maywood.  My car remains halfway down the driveway where I abandoned it last night for fear of sliding right into the house.  (I had already inched my way down the Wicked Curve on Miller Lane as another car tried to make its way up the Wicked Curve, neither of us able to back up.) As I click at the keyboard this morning in blinding snowlight, Maywood Man is outside trying to get the tractor to start so that he can begin plowing.

It is 11 degrees with 25 mph winds. The snow dazzles under cloudless blue skies.  Gusts of wind blow through snow-laden branches and send the powdery flakes whirling like smoke. It is stunningly beautiful from my indoor perspective near a cozy wood stove.   Homemade butternut squash awaits my frozen plowman when he comes in from clearing the road.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it.  Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it. Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

I’m guessing the perspective inside the bee hives is less spectacular.  It is the bleak midwinter  for them.  Too cold to leave the hive, they huddle in a  ball to maintain the hive temperature.  They eat the honey they stored last summer.  They also have grease patties that Mr. Beekeeper/Plowman made for them, a combination of sugar and Crisco.  If they have sufficient numbers, they can keep the hive warm enough to move around to the honey.  If not, they eat what is nearby and hopefully don’t starve before the weather warms up.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but  still had plenty of grease patties.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but still had plenty of grease patties.

Two weeks ago, on a balmy almost 70 degree day, we took a peek in the hives to assess their strength and to offer more grease patties.  The hives were all active with plenty of bees coming and going.  Although the bees have no plants to pollinate in winter, they use the warm winter days for cleansing flights.  Yes, the ladies must keep the hive clean!   Some bees were nibbling at the grease patties,  but they had still had plenty from the last gift– good sign, I think, that they had plenty else to eat.

A week later, Mr. Beekeeper took another quick peek.  Hive B was low in numbers.  So now he has reason to worry.  Should he have removed the grease patties and replaced them with easier to digest fondant?  Is there enough air circulation to keep moisture from building up and freezing into tiny stalactites in the hives?  Should he sweep the snow from around the hives?  Or leave it to act as a blanket?  If he could put tiny little blankets on each of his bees, I think he would do it.

A couple of dead  bees at the entrance to Hive C.

A couple of dead bees at the entrance to Hive C.

Last winter we lost all four hives before Christmas.  It hadn’t even gotten really cold yet, but their numbers were too low to keep themselves warm.  This year, the hives are wrapped for solar heat in tar paper and they have plenty to eat.  They just need to stay warm.  Weather like today’s does not make it easy.  As my son-in-law commented, we went to bed in Maryland but woke up in Siberia.

Ah, but that’s the thing about Maryland.  The weather is always changing.  If the bees can get through this week’s projected snow, rain, ice, and minus two degrees, by next Friday it is supposed to reach 40.

Minus two?

Hang in there, little bees!  We’ve passed the Winter Solstice.  The days are getting longer.CIMG8068