Maizy has her tortilla Mardi Gras mask and she's ready to party.
It's a warm week on the bee farm as these February days dwindle away. The girls are out flying, having a good time wasting energy, not finding a darn thing to eat. The temp. reached 55 yesterday and I think they called for near sixty today. This makes for a delightful time if you're a bee-- checking out your new warm world, stretching the wings, sniffing around... but if you're a beekeeper, you're not crazy about it. This was the thought that crept in during my early morning zone-out today.
I like to spend a few minutes 'fire staring' on winter mornings before the wild ruckus begins. When all is quiet and dark, the kids are still sleeping, and there's nothing but the warm, crackling fire for entertainment. Thinking, you ask? ... poetic and philosophic? No, not hardly. Just staring mainly. But I did have one bee thought this morning, and that was this: we could really be screwed. It's too warm! The bees are flying daily and building up a nice brood nest I'm sure. If you live in Georgia, this is a good thing. But not here. Mason and I took the truck to find a load of wood the other day, and we worked in t-shirts. In February!
The reason this may turn out to be a bad thing is that we're looking at March right around the corner... the real killing time for bees. As you beekeepers know, a few days of cold while the bees are trying to raise and keep brood warm can spell disaster. The bees seem to put more importance on keeping the brood (baby bees) warm then feeding themselves. Many hives die of starvation this time of year. Not from lack of available food, but rather a lack of mobility in the hive. They'll sit on the brood and starve with honey stores just two inches away.
I try to remedy this problem by feeding periodically throughout the winter. Although we leave a full super of honey to the bees in the fall, by now they have eaten their way upward to where most hives have a sizable cluster on top. A big food patty on top where the girls can get to it sometimes does just the trick. This winter I tried feeding Dadant sugar patties in January. Most of the hives ate them right up, even with frames of honey right beside the cluster. I came back the first week of this month and plopped down a big cake of my own concoction-- a blend of granulated sugar, powdered protein, and our own honey and pollen.
This is a fairly weak hive pictured, but I like this photo because it gives you a chance to see which patty the bees like better. Proud to say Honeyrun Farm came out the winner. I think it must be the honey blended in there. In most of the hives, the stronger ones, the Dadant patties are all gone.
I'll go back for another round of feeding and checking in March. Hopefully everyone will still be hanging in there. We're sitting at about a 15% winter loss at the moment (Not too bad!), but it all could change with a big blustery cold.
Lent is upon us. "What are you giving up?" Jayne asks.
I told her I would try to give up womanizing, but that would be really hard. I think maybe, for forty days, I'll try to give up worrying about the bees. You can do everything right in this business, have a healthy thriving hive one day, and dead bees the next. Feeding helps, but the weather this time of year is the real factor.
I grew up feeding about 100 head of cattle with my Dad every morning. Then in high school I worked at a jersey dairy, and that was even worse-- blended and rationed feed for every cow twice a day. Bees are so much easier-- a couple feedings a winter and you're done! Of course, cows don't suddenly drop dead either. Lent is tough.