It looks as if Spring is here, or at least on the horizon. No doubt we’ll have a few more cold days, maybe even a bit of snow here and there. Nonetheless I am ready for another season of beekeeping and gardening in Chicago.
This past weekend it was warm enough for me to check on all of my bees for any signs of life and here is where I netted out.
Active hives going into winter: 7
Surviving hives: 4
Hives lost: 3
Ok, 4 out of 7 hives is not terrible. Obviously, I’d like to see them all survive. Last year I had 2 out of 4 hives survive. The year before I had 0 out of 2 survive. So the numbers are improving. I think we can attribute this to a few things. First, we had a good summer of nectar flow and bees had plenty to store in 2014. Secondly, they had more frames of wax already built from the season before. This allows the queen to get started laying eggs quickly and not needing to wait for the workers to build cells, thus allowing the population to grow strong quickly. And then there were a number of different techniques we tried like putting a quilt box on the hives to control moisture, wrapping the hive with pink foam insulation, and closing up the screened bottom board. I’m not sure if any of those really had a positive effect on them, but they were worth trying.
We are still not yet out of the woods. We need to make it to a point in Spring where nectar is flowing freely and pollen is readily available. Until then, I will supplement the live hives with honey from the dead hives and potentially fondant or 1:1 simple syrup.
Another dead hive. I have not thoroughly gone the this hive, but we did notice the inner cover had potentially shifted during the winter creating a large gap on two sides which would create quite a draft for the bees to resist. However, seeing as they were towards the top of the hive makes me think they either ate through all their honey (and starved) or they left honey lower in the hive but by the time they were too far from it, they couldn’t collectively move down.
Looking ahead I would like to repopulate my fleet of hives back to 7. I may purchase 2 packages to replace 2 hives and then try splitting a successful hive of mine into 2 colonies. There are risks and challenges with splitting. For example, a split colony might not be able to produce a new queen for a number of reasons and the population would simply dwindle to nothing. Also, the parent hive with the existing queen may suffer from the population decrease and eventually collapse.
In addition to my 7 langstroth style hives, my beekeeping buddy Darek and I will be starting a top bar hive together. Top bar hives are a more natural approach to beekeeping. They do not use foundation and allow the bees to build up their comb completely from their own wax. Top bar hives best replicate how the bees would exist in nature (say, in a hollow tree). I do not intend to harvest honey from this and use it more as an observational and educational tool. I may take a bit of cut comb honey. More pictures will come as we build it and install bees.
Here are some dead bees in position where they were clustered. You can see they easily had access to honey.
I need to consider what to with all this leftover honey that the dead hives didn’t consumer over winter. It is still delicious and as fresh as ever. I probably have 6 supers of honey, which could be over 100 lbs of honey. I will certainly use it to supplement my other hives, but I may consider harvesting a few frames.
Here is another potential problems some beehives face. As we had the apiary fenced in to direct the flight of bees during the summer, we knew it had the potential to collect snow and block the entrance to the hive. As things warm up, the bees need to take flight and relieve themselves. Sometimes it takes snow a while to melt out of the sun. This could trap the bees inside. Luckily, this hive has survived to this point. In fact, the snow potentially provided a wind break to the colony.
Looking forward to posting more this season as last year I was kept busy in the field. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more happenings with you.