Sunday, December 29, 2013

Poo Storm: 2013-12-28

I've heard of a "poo storm" as a figure of speech before, but yesterday I experienced one!!  The temperature here in Michigan reached a whopping 40 degrees and it was sunny as well.  I decided to take the opportunity to remove some of the ice that was actually blocking the front entrance of the hive.  It had already begun melting and the ice slid off in a big chunk quite easily.  I could now see that the bees had moved many of there dead as close to the entrance as possible but they couldn't get them outside so they were clogging the holes in the mouse guard.  I pulled the dead ones out and brushed off some remaining melt water off the landing board and a few of the more cold hard girls were eager to come outside!

It is cold out here girls!
I took a quick count and there were 10 dead bees that I had pulled out and were now in the snow.  By the time I was done counting, about four more bees came out to investigate what the bright orange ball of light was that was hanging in the sky.  They flew around for a bit, never straying too far.  Two of them seem to be doing orientation flights (hovering in front of the hive facing toward to hive to remember what it looks like).  I looked up and one bee was near the vent hole on the candy board so maybe she crawled up and exited there.  It wasn't long until two of the bees had landed in the snow to take a break.  That is usually a death knell for a bee because if they stay too long the cold will move into them and make them "sleepy".  Of course they can't be that cold for very long without their sisters keeping them warm so they would soon die.  I picked them up out of the snow and placed them back on the landing board.  I ended up doing this a few times and decided I couldn't stay there all day rescuing bees, so I headed into the house.

After having lunch and running around for a few hours, I decided to head back out to take a peek again late in the afternoon.  That when I saw the evidence of the poo storm!  As I neared the hive and hit the boundary of the bee garden, I saw dead bees all over the place.  In addition to that, little brownish yellow splashes in the snow all over the place!

This snow used to be pure white

Hope you feel better now girls

If you didn't know, bees are very cleanly and only defecate in the hive if they have a bad form of bee dysentery.  So, they generally "hold it" for weeks and weeks at a time until there is a warm spell.  They sure took advantage of this one!  I'm just glad I wasn't around when a few thousand other bees decided to come out and drop a load.  Dang!

Having "done their business", it looks like they also took an opportunity to drag out a number of their dead sisters.

Bring out yer dead!
You'd might think with this many dead bees that it was a catastrophe, but this is not the case.  In the winter, the dead generally accumulate on the bottom of the hive until a warm day when the bees can leave their cluster and remove them.  With thousands of bees in the hive, a hundred dead is a pretty normal amount to have accumulated over the course of about a month.  So all seems well in White hive so far this winter!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Bees: 2013-12-12

Winter for a Michigan beekeeper can be the most stressful time of year.  Specifically because there usually isn't much you can do once you've tucked them in for the cold season.  All the work for Winter prep is hopefully done before the snow flies!

Most people that I talk to tend to think that bees hibernate for the Winter.  Not true, they cluster together into a ball of bees and use the honey they have stored in the hive as their food/energy source to generate heat.  They start in the bottom box and eat their way up into the top box by the end of Winter.  So, if you open the hive on a warm day in January and the bees are at the top of the hive already, you are in trouble.  I wanted to do one final inspection in the Fall to determine the honey stores in the hive but I never got around to it.  As an emergency measure, you can put sugar in the hive so they can have something to eat.  Last year, I used the "mountain camp" method to put sugar into the hive.  Basically I removed some frames, put down some newspaper and dumped sugar on it.  It worked well but I came across plans for a candy board and it seemed like a really good way of putting the sugar over the cluster.  With a small hole drilled into the side it also provides additional ventilation to the hive as well as an upper entrance in case the bottom gets snowed in.  It was easy to make the box and some 1/2" hardware cloth stapled to the bottom and it was built!

Another nice thing is this sugar required no cooking.  I put 12 pounds of sugar, 3 cups of water and a tablespoon of vinegar into my beer brewing kettle and stirred it up.  This makes a paste like consistency that you spread into the candy board.

You place a block of wood in front of the ventilation hole/upper entrance so the sugar doesn't plug it up.   After spreading the sugar out, I let it dry for about a week before placing it on the hive.

Once the candy board was in place I put mouse guards on the front entrance, some wind breaks up to help cut down the North and West winds and placed some pieces of styrofoam insulation over the outer cover.

Now for the hardest part of all..............waiting until Spring!

Thanks for reading