Winter in the Beeyard

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglass
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This is the time of year when things get really slow in the beeyard, so take advantage of it! It’s the perfect time for building and repairing woodenware that you’ll need when the spring buildup starts (it’ll be here before you know it!). Re-gluing, re-nailing, replacing broken or rotted wood, putting together and wiring frames, checking veils for holes that need closing up (nothing’s worse than a bee in your veil!)—that kind of thing. Working on these things gives us time to dream of the year to come — the beautiful fruits and vegetables and sweet, mellow honey that awaits us! It’s also time to look through the bee supply catalogs and find those things you need or have always wanted (a late Christmas present to yourself?) AND — I can’t emphasize this enough — to order your bees! In this area they sell out very quickly, so if you’re planning on just starting out or if you’re adding to your apiary, now is the time! Don’t wait and be disappointed when your bee breeder is sold out!

What Are the Bees Doing Right Now?

It really depends on where you live, but different activities commence at different temperatures: So far, it’s been a screwy winter here on North Carolina’s coast. In the past two weeks, it’s been as warm as 80 degrees and two days later it’s down in the 20’s! The girls seem to be coping — I see them flying and trying to forage one day, then the next I have to put my ear to the box and knock to ensure that my poor sweeties are doing a good job of clustering tightly together and vibrating their wing muscles at a rate adequate to generate enough warmth to keep the hive at 94 degrees, if there’s brood present (homeostasis), or at 58 degrees if there is no brood.

I take comfort in the warmer days since when it’s around 50 degrees outside they have to opportunity to break cluster and take advantage of their food stores. It’s very important that we keep track of those warm days, because we need to watch those food stores! More bees die from starvation over the winter than from any other problem that may befall them! So every week or so it’s a good idea to go out and “heft” your hives: Just grab the bottom board and lift the hive about an inch to see how heavy they are. They’ll get lighter and lighter as the season progresses and you may have to supplement that stored honey and pollen with syrup. I prefer using pure cane sugar (no beet sugar; no corn syrup) in a balance of 2:1 (2 lbs sugar to 1 pint water). I use a hive top feeder since when I’m feeding, the girls can’t fly out and freeze, nor does the heat escape.

When the temp is 55 degrees most will leave the hive for a brief “cleansing flight.” Honey bees are very clean creatures and will make every effort to wait for a fair day when they can go outside to take care of their hygiene duties rather than besmirch the hive. It is for this reason that nosema — a bee’s form of dysentery — is more common in northern climes where the girls have fewer chances to get outside—although we have had occasion to see it here as well. Normally, if it is Nosema Apis, it can be easily treated by feeding Fumagillin-B in their sugar water, but in the past couple of years, we have also been troubled by a new form of nosema—Nosema Ceranae—which is more stubborn and does not always occur under the same circumstances.

 Which type of nosema a beekeeper is dealing with can be definitely determined only under a microscope. Fortunately, I’m one of those who have been trained by NC State Beekeepers Association to make the diagnosis—and they’ve also provided me with a microscope! Although I’m not happy about the fact that more and more new maladies are besieging the girls, I am thrilled for the opportunity to learn how to diagnose and quickly treat any of these problems so that if they do arise, I may readily help the beekeepers in our area.

Beekeeper of the Year Award

On a personal note, I want to tell you that in December, rather than having the usual monthly meeting, the Crystal Coast Beekeepers celebrated Christmas and the Holiday Season. This year, the celebration was at Clawson’s Restaurant in Beaufort-by-the Sea, N.C. Everyone had a great time with good food and a rousing “Secret Santa.” The highlight of the evening — for me at least — was the announcement of this year’s “Beekeeper of the Year.” I was surprised and honored to be the beekeeper selected for recognition!

President Russ Lewis presented me with a plaque made from the end board of a hive box with the personalization and the club’s logo beautifully carved into the wood! My fellow beeks suggested I put it in my beeyard, but knowing how bee boxes can deteriorate, I am opting to give it a good coat of polyurethane and hang it in a place of honor in my office! Hope you’ve learned something from this little dissertation on the honey bee’s winter. Please give me your thoughts and suggestions, so that I can help all you beeks out there take care of our sweet little girls. Here’s to a bee-u-ti-ful 2014!