Winter hive inspections can be a little dicey for a couple of reasons. You never know when you’re going to get the opportunity because of the weather. It has to be warm enough (40 degrees or higher) or the bees will get too cold when you open the hive. You also can’t be sure what you’re going to find once you get the hive open. Will the bees still be alive? If so, are they healthy? Do they have enough food? Will our observations change our plans for the spring? Do we need to buy more bees?
We had a warm day this week where the temperature reached 40 degrees, so we went to our hives to see how the girls are doing. All we could see when we got out there was one live bee at the entrance of one hive. It was a sign of hope! The other hive didn’t have any bees at the entrance, so that’s the one we opened first. Right away we saw a little mold on the inner cover, and we didn’t hear any buzzing. We opened up the feeder section of the hive and saw that the bees had been eating the sugar we provided, but we still saw no signs of life. What we did see was wetness. The sugar was damp, the newspaper it was sitting on was damp, and when we looked further down into the hive, everything was damp. They had died, and we aren’t sure when. There were not any signs of starvation or illness, so we figure it just got too wet in there.
We moved over to the second hive (the one that we saw a live bee at), and started opening it up. As soon as I got the inner cover off, we could here buzzing!!! We opened up the feeder section and there was a large mound of buzzing bees on the sugar, nibbling away. What a beautiful sight to see and a beautiful sound to hear in the middle of winter!! This hive was also damp, but not quite as bad as the other one. We added more ventilation by sliding the feeder box forward so there was a 1/8th inch space on the back side of the hive for warm, moist air to escape slightly. The gap is not large enough for mice or bees to go through. We’re hoping this ventilation gap will help the bees, and hopefully we’ll be able to check on them again before winter is through. But you never know in Michigan. We still have about 10 weeks of possible blizzard weather.
After we put the hive back together, we moved the dead hive to the garage so I can clean it up a bit after it dries out. I went back out to the hive area and watched the bees. Now there were many more coming out of the hive entrance and taking flight. This was very interesting to watch. This is called a cleansing flight because they leave the hive in the winter only to go to the bathroom. They do not go potty in the hive and will hold it during cold weather until it’s warm enough to go outside again. While I watched them, some would fly from the hive and circle around, letting out their “excrement” and then going back to the hive. Some bees would land in the snow and do their business. There were some bees lying dead in the snow. It doesn’t take long before they get too cold and can’t make it back to the hive.
So, this was our bittersweet hive inspection day. We discovered some sad things and some exciting things. We are hopeful for this spring and plan to purchase two nucs (mini-hives that are ready to move into a larger hive). I will do my best to get pictures and video of that day and post an update. Until then, stay warm and have a safe winter!
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