Sneak Peek on the Bees
As winter comes close to an end (or so we hope!), we have had a few days of spectacular spring-like weather here in Norfolk County. Today, in particular, we have had a high of 18°C, with sunny, cloudless skies. Though our hives are still wrapped up for winter (and will remain so for at least another month), we were able to externally examine the hives to see how they fared over this very harsh season.
Winter can be a challenging season for honey bees. As beekeepers, we do our best to prepare them for the cold temperatures, high winds, snow, and ice by leaving sufficient honey stores for the bees to eat over the winter, removing superfluous honey frames to keep the box size small so they can efficiently retain their heat, and treating for varroa mites in the fall to reduce the risk of major infestation. In the past couple of decades, many beekeepers in Ontario have experienced increased losses over the winters. There are many factors that can weaken a hive and leave them vulnerable during the cold winter season, including cold temperatures and inclement weather, mite infestations, and exposure to pesticides. We are hearing of more and more local beekeepers losing most or all of their hives each season. Rebuilding your hives is both a financial and productive setback, especially since a new nucleus colony (or “nuc” for short) needs time to establish once you have introduced it to your boxes.
In our first season as beekeepers, we lost all of our hives coming out of winter. It was a devastating loss, and we produced little honey last summer. During this past winter (our second as beekeepers), we braced ourselves for considerable losses. Of the six hives we have, we hoped perhaps one or two would make it through the winter. We would not have been surprised if we lost all hives again. Most beekeepers likely feel the same.
Given that today’s external inspection happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, I can only imagine that we’ve experienced a little luck of the Irish: it does look like five out of six hives have very good bee activity around them. Because the weather is so lovely today, the bees will come out to take poop flights and orientation flights. There were quite a few bees buzzing in our apiary today and we could not be happier!
We will keep the hives wrapped and protected for several more weeks, do a fondant feeding in a couple of weeks, and once the weather is more consistently warm, we will open each hive to do a proper inspection. At that point, we will look to see whether each hive still has a queen and if she is laying new brood. If that is the case, the hive has officially survived winter! Keep your fingers crossed for us.