This Winter has been a bear in Eastern Indiana. I don’t think we have had a good bee day since mid December. I’ve watched hives all Winter as the lows get to -15F, wondering how many will make it. Recently in discussions with other beekeepers I have been pretty pessimistic. This is my first Winter like this keeping bees. On Saturday I was at a hive site and wanted to check for pest tracks in the snow. What I saw looked like a scene from some kind of scatological horror film. I must confess a smile came across my face.
The front of the hives were splattered with bee droppings. I know this happened in the last two weeks, but I can’t be exactly sure when. They had not done it on this day because fresh snow fell the previous evening. The snow in front of the hives was pure white. The hive host had sent me a text one day the previous week saying that there were bees dead out in front, but he didn’t say anything about the new paint jobs.
There is information here if we take the time to think about it. Hive strength is better in 1208 than 1005. Just by looking at the number of droppings on the outside of each hive a “ballpark” idea of how many bees are in there can be estimated. The woodwork of 1208 took more direct hits than 1005 because more bees were in there needing to go. 1303 appears to still be alive, but they had way fewer streaks. This was a small swarm last summer that went into winter with fewer bees than the other two hives at this site. The fact that 1303 is still alive gives me hope for others out there.
The above photos were taken about 11:50 a.m. I should have taken pictures of the snow in front of the hives at that time. It did NOT get above 35F Saturday, but the sun came out so the hives were checked again just before evening. To my amazement bees had been out relieving themselves. Not in the numbers required to cover the outside of the boxes, but new droppings were present. The photo to the left shows fresh spots in the snow. Several dead bees were present on the snow as well.
This is another time where information about your bees can be gained passively. Granted, you don’t know how many stores are left or exactly how big the cluster is, but you know they are alive and you didn’t have to do anything TO THEM. At this stage of the game that is good enough for me. There is little that can be done right now anyway. It gives me hope, and I hope your hives have a little poop on em’ too.
It may not seem like it, but Spring is coming.
Questions / Comments ?
I too have been scared of this unforgiving winter. My cousin in Montana, friend in Vermont and I are all having the same -20 winter. I did get to ck the girls yesterday, Wed, and they seemed to be doing well. I put some fondant on for the first time altho they seem to have plenty of honey. I hope your girls are busting at the seems come spring. I hope to split mine come April or May, maybe you could go into that some since I have never done that before.
To tell you the truth I haven’t done enough successful splitting to document a good plan for you. I do have a question for you… Are you planning this split for any other reason than that you want to have more bees?
I may do some splitting this Spring, but for some very specific animal husbandry reasons. The typical beekeeper mantra is to split 1 strong hive to make 2 hives. What I am doing is NOT SPLITTING MY STRONG HIVES – because I want my most productive best suited bees to make honey — unmolested. I have something good and I don’t want to mess it up by an attempted split. Therefore to keep those good strong hives strong I don’t mess with them.
The bees I am planning on splitting are the laggard colonies. The ones that overwinter, but just aren’t as strong as my Production Colonies. The laggards will be split once I find queen cells in some of them OR I start to see swarming activity. Then I plan on splitting them up and having them make new queens. These nucs will be placed near my most productive colonies so that drones from PRODUCTION HIVES can fertilize the queens.
I am doing this for several reasons but here are the main bullet points:
1. I don’t like the idea of stressing my most productive colonies. They are doing their part and should be allowed to do their work.
2. I want production colonies making drones for reproduction. If I split the strong colonies that is going to weaken them and their queens will not lay as many drones. They are the good stock… I WANT THEM LAYING DRONES.
3. If I DON’T split the junk — The junky colonies will be making more drones than the good colonies(post-split). This goes directly against my animal husbandry goal of making my bees better generation after generation.
4. I either want those less productive colonies to get new freshly bred queens…. Or die. I am in this to make honey and more hardy genetic lines.
I hope that this makes sense to you. If it doesn’t feel free to follow up in the comments OR send me an e-mail.
When I finally do get more proficient with splitting I will do an in depth post on it. There is enough sketchy beekeeping information on the Internet without me adding to it… 🙂