Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mid December - Part 2: Emergency feeding

As promised, here is my mid December update on the honey bees.
Like I mentioned in the last post: Mid December part 1, I was looking into my options for feeding the bees to keep them from starving. Both of our colonies came from swarms this summer ( Blog post: A Bee Adventure ) one being vacuumed out of the ceiling and the other captured from a neighbor's fence post. Which meant we had very little time for them to build up their honey stores for this winter. Since then I have fed them sugar syrup to help them get this far, but now that it's winter the time for syrup has passed. I  learned about two emergency feeding options: sugar cakes and dry sugar. I was leaning towards the dry sugar option because it sounded easier and I liked the notion that the sugar would help absorb the condensation in the hive. So armed with my 25# bag of sugar, some newspaper and hive tools I headed out today to check the hives.    
What I found was that both hives are alive but in need of help. This (above) is the stronger of the two colonies, what you are looking at is the top of the ball of bees that makes up the colony in the frames of comb. The weather on this day was cloudy, about 30 degrees F. and calm. The bees were active but not flying.
Honey bees can't survive long when exposed to the direct cold so I tried to work quickly. I removed the old syrup feeders since they aren't able to make use of them any more (the bees can't move far enough away from the colony to get at it).  I also took off the upper deep boxes and replaced them with medium boxes. It would have been even better to use shallow boxes, but I don't have any.  Then I placed newspaper over the frames and piled on the sugar.

This is what it looked like after I piled on as much sugar as I could without it dumping over the edges. Like I mentioned, the moisture in the hive will get absorbed by the sugar creating a large cake that the bees can eat for months. The idea is that the sugar is close enough to the colony that the bees can get at it without getting too cold.
That's my hope anyway, because opening the hive is stressful on the bees so I don't plan on opening them again for quite a while. While I was scooping the sugar in, one bee took the opportunity for a "cleansing flight". She flew up in the air to pee/poop and returned to the hive. I was reminded of the amazing ability of the honey bee to hold their waste for months at a time.    
This is what our hives look like now. The bees are living totally in the bottom brood boxes, the medium boxes on top are there only to make room for the sugar (we painted the boxes with left over paint from the chicken coop, but I kind of like the color scheme). The entrance reducers have been on in the middle position for a while now. I may have reduced them to the smallest opening today, but the reducers were swelled by moisture and frozen firmly in place. The only other winter prep I have been considering is a wind break, but haven't gotten to it. Luckily we've had a mild winter and no big wind storms so far.

I read in one of my bee books that the first step to successful beekeeping is keeping the bees. So with that in mind, I am doing my best to not be a bee looser. I just hope my best is enough.
I'll leave you with a view of the lower Clark Fork Valley and Plains, that I took today while hiking with our dogs. This was after I accidentally spooked a herd of Bighorn Sheep. Some days I am in awe of the beauty surrounding us.
Merry Christmas and Happy new Year!

1 comment:

April said...

Great read, Ky. Never knew about the cleansing flight. All of it was informative though. :) Your posts always give me stuff to think about. Glad my posts bring you smiles.