Winter Beekeeping and Bee School Updates

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglass
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Happy 2015! Hope you and your bees are doing well. It’s been a crazy winter so far. This past autumn the bees weren’t able to stock their hives as well as I had hoped. I usually depend upon the goldenrod for the girls’ winter stores, but goldenrod season started out too wet resulting in watered down nectar that the bees didn’t want and ended on a dry note so that no nectar was being produced. There were actually only about four good goldenrod nectar collecting days, but during that time every bee, wasp, butterfly and what-have-you pollinators were covering those lovely yellow blossoms!

Went into winter with only three hives. . .which is a great disappointment. . .but I made sure those hives were strong. Two of them were combines. So I’m hoping in the spring I’ll be able to split them. That will take me back up to five, and then I plan to order a couple of nucs to attain my max of seven (after that it ceases to be a hobby and becomes work!).

Haven’t been able to get into the hives to check stores since it’s been such a ridiculously cold  winter (for this area). Usually, my girls get to fly at least a couple of days a week, but between rain and cold, there’s been very little flying going on. So just in case, I put on hivetop feeders with 2:1 syrup in them. At first the girls were sucking it down and I went through about 40 pounds of sugar in the first couple of weeks! Now, however, they’ve stopped taking the syrup, so I’m guessing they’ve filled up the storage sites down below. Nonetheless, I check the feeders every few days to make sure they don’t go dry. Starvation during winter is the biggest danger and heartbreaking to discover if you don’t keep on top of it. So every couple of days (including today) I quickly lift the lid and take a peek. I also put my ear to the box and knock. . .three sharp raps. So far, my girls are responding with a hearty hum. In one hive (the nuc that I had moved into a deep as I reported last time) when I knocked I heard the queen! Now that really makes me want to get into that hive because you don’t usually hear the queen quack unless she’s still in a queen cell or if there are queen cells she’s looking to locate so she can sting them to death before they hatch! I dare not open the hive though, lest I chill the brood. So I’m waiting patiently for an above-sixty-degree day. When I see the girls out flying, that’s when I’ll go in!

Held another bee school in November and it was a record breaker! Thirty-eight newbees in attendance! The class was so large we had to move to larger quarters to accommodate everyone! It seems that with the dire situation we have and the danger of losing our beloved honey bees (no bees no food!), more and more people are becoming involved in saving our girls. And thank goodness for that. . .we need all the help we can get! Anyway, we’ve finished “the book learnin’” part of the classes and this month will move on to field work! I’m planning to have the class come to my apiary so we can run through the bee equipment “up front and personal” rather than merely looking at pictures in a catalog. We’ll place a group order for equipment and bees plus I’ll be giving away some surplus woodenware to those who want to clean it and get it ready for spring. Then to the best part. . .going into the hives! Sure, book learnin’s just fine, but I really believe you truly start to learn when you get hands on! I know on a personal level that it’s when I got into the hives that I got addicted. And with the thought of introducing all these newbees to these sweet little girls, I get just as excited about it as they do!

Another development is that in addition to my position as membership/publicity chair, I have been elected Vice President of Crystal Coast Beekeepers Association — the local chapter of NC State Beekeepers Association that I founded about eight years ago. One of the additional titles/responsibilities of the VP is “Program Manager,” so right now I’m attempting to get speakers for each of our monthly meetings for 2015. A daunting task when you’re a poor, little nonprofit, but I’m working on it. I have a few scheduled and have some more ideas, and I’ll fill you in as they come into fruition.

So, even though it’s “the slow months of winter,” I’m keeping busy and looking forward to spring and all the promises it holds!

I’d also like to let you know that there’s some good news out there regarding help for our honey bees. It seems they’re studying a possible cure for American Foulbrood through utilization of phages, and help with controlling the varroa mite through— are you ready? — mushrooms! Check these videos out! Really fascinating!

So that’s my report for now.  As things develop, I’ll be back in touch. Thanks for your interest in the honey bee!

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