In some ways, taking care of honey bees in the winter is like baking a soufflé. No matter how badly you want to know how things are progressing, you simply can’t open the hive (or the oven) until the proper time.
Impatience results in disaster in the form of chilled bees. January was a tough month. We transitioned from a very mild December to a very cold January that included rain, snow, freezing rain, and a polar vortex that pushed the temperature to -5 degrees F (-20 degrees C). We fed our bees winter patties on December 30, but it was too cold to check the hives in January. As winter weather pounded the area, I kept wondering how the bees were doing inside their hives. Were they still alive? Did they have enough food? Did a mouse find a way to get past the mesh we installed at the entrance? Did our varroa treatments work? My anxiety was fueled by the fact that I was preparing a presentation on honey bee pests and diseases. The presentation will be given at the beekeeping school hosted by our local bee club. The class will be full of enthusiastic people who want to start beekeeping, and I am the lucky person who gets to tell the enthusiastic people about the multitude of ways their bees may die.
February brought milder weather in Northern Kentucky. This Sunday the sun was shining, and the temperature reached nearly 65 degrees F (18 degrees C). I was off attending a baby shower of a family friend, so Doug went and checked the hives. Here is the only relevant sentence in my entire post:
OUR THREE HONEY BEE COLONIES ARE STILL ALIVE!
Bees were flying from all three hives, and Doug was able to install new winter feeding patties. The bees were busy cleaning out of the hive the carcasses of their departed sisters. Bees don’t take time to mourn. They just get on with it.
The weather was so mild that bees were out foraging, but they were probably as frustrated as a pregnant woman craving Chic-Fil-A waffle fries on a Sunday. Our German Shepherd, Forte, was with Doug. Much to our dismay, Forte likes to chase and eat bees. We love Forte. We love our bees, so seeing Forte eat the bees causes us great pain. A fence separates him from the hives, but he still manages to swallow a few foragers. Can you imagine being a bee that survived a polar vortex only to emerge from the hive and get eaten by a 100 lb German Shepherd? What a way to go.
We still have several months before we can successfully declare that we helped our bees through the winter. We are not confident, and nothing is certain. However, for today we are very happy. We have three hives with live bees, and that is enough for now.