I went to check my beehive two days ago since the weather was nice and the temp was over 50 degrees. I brought 2 gallons of 1:1 sugar water to feed them to help them fuel up for spring while waiting for the dandelions and trees to flower. We had had a very cold winter with about 45 consecutive days below freezing but I was hopeful. I had observed a little feces on the front of the hive at the top entrance which I hoped was a sign that when things got warm enough a few bees were able to part from the cluster and take a potty break. When we opened the hive we were hoping to see a ball of bees still keeping warm as they slowly traveled through the hive consuming what honey they had put up for the winter.
That was not what I found.
Instead I saw no live bees, a lot of capped honey and a feeder that was still half full from last year. It looks as though they did not starve but rather froze. Bees seem to know how much food they have and how many bees get to stay in the hive for the winter to keep the Queen warm based on available food and other things bees need. It seems that maybe the bee cluster was too small and they could not generate enough heat to keep alive so as some bees died the cluster got smaller and harder still to keep warm. It is possible that since they did not have enough honey in the top section of the hive that they had to choose between staying lower where the honey was and rising up where it was probably warmer or easier to keep warm. Total bummer for me. Total bummer for the bees.
So moving forward we gave the hive a good cleaning and removed a bunch of propolis and burr comb . I will resupply the hive with at least 2 swarms this spring and this should help them build more comb and honey for next winter. This is a learning experience and had it been a milder winter I would probably be learning more about spring feeding and how to clean a hive with 8,000 residents to be courteous with. It is easier to clean the hive at this time of the year because at the end of the year there can easily be 60,000 bees to work with and every one of them wishing you would leave their honey and pollen stores alone.
Either way I look at it the bees brought benefit with their presence in our garden. Their pollinating services, I’m sure, made a large contribution to my garden and the unknown numbers of gardens in the area. I believe they reduced the number of other flying stinging insects in the immediate area. They were a reason to meet and learn about bees from a number of very nice, experienced beekeepers (perhaps I should have asked more questions) and they were the source of educational entertainment for my whole family and every person that came to visit the garden where they are kept.
But such is the way of nature. Each new season brings it’s issues and it’s lessons and it’s opportunities to move forward. And move forward we will with new bees and a new found skill. Bee hunting.