Let's review. We started summer 2018 with 18 hives. Up from 10 the year before. Long story. I sold five early on to folks desperate to fill their hives after a winter loss, whew. (It's actually harder to get your hands on nucs up here than you might think!) Eighteen was way too many for me, for the forage, for the peace on our property. It always seemed like one bee had been sent to hunt me down on the patio. I would skirt quickly inside, slamming the screened door between me and the bee. And she'd stay there, banging her head on the screen while I looked out. Geez.
The summer went well, basically, with the usual ups and downs. Two hives did not survive to summer's end, falling victim to moths before harvest time. Yuck. Bye bye hives A and C. Eleven left to focus on.
After harvesting the honey, I fed each hive a gallon of super thick syrup to help them bulk up their stores for winter. Most hives devoured it. A hive or two did not (a harbinger of things to come). At the same time, I prepped each hive with improved inner covers with small exit holes and a moisture board to absorb any dew that sneaks in or condensation that tries to gather. Moisture is bad, but ventilation is good. I added four small shims in each hive between the top frames and the inner cover. Then when December rolled around I gave each hive a sticky blanket of winter bee food, just in case they ran out. And finally, I cloaked each hive in a bee cozy to protect them from the wicked wind that whips across their field.
Of note this winter: the inside covers with doors, the moisture boards, the shims and the winter bee food are all new. I try new tactics each year to help the bees. Last year, across the valley, very few of our bees wintered over. Upon inspecting the hives, we found a few issues: moisture and starvation. SO, Operation Better Winter was put into action. Also, this winter has been easier in general. Knock wood that we don't have snow deep into April.
Just this past weekend and the one prior, I checked each hive and added winter food to two hives I could not give it to before due to the ton of bees in the way. I was worried they would have run out of food. But nope. They were still there buzzing in a tight little cluster. I added their winter patties around the periphery and wished them well. Other hives were buzzing too. And some were not. Out of 11 hives, we have six that look pretty vibrant and five that are very quite. My guess is they are done. But if we come out of the winter with 6 thriving hives I will do a major bee dance.
From here on out, I will check the winter food levels every 3 weeks or so. Natural forage is not available in the Catskills in abundance until May usually. I will feed them until they are able to feed themselves.
Come spring, I will remove their winter covers and begin to prepare them for the major task of staffing up. In order to reproduce, the bees need pollen and that too can be supplemented if needed. Pollen cakes anyone? Then there's nectar. If it rains too much too close together, the rain washes away the pollen and the nectar and we have to give the bees a special grocery delivery!
I know the groundhog didn't see his shadow and all that, but it's not spring until it is. So, for now, let's focus on surviving the winter.
xoxo Farm Girl