The Winter Toll

Finally, it was here – a warm weather spell so I could see the little ones and help get their hives in order.  Thursday and Friday were in the 60’s.  To the bee yards to start counting the winter toll.  At first, all the hives looked alive.  I was so happy watching the bees fly about, though at the moment there is only crocus, pussy willow and witch hazel pollen and nectar to eat.  First two hives were thriving – especially fantastic since one of the colonies I took out of a local winery’s tasting room wall and another I took out of a barn wall with Adam last year.  I am happy when any colony overwinters but I have additional emotional connections to these two.  Hive three great.  Hive four looked alive but only looked that way because other bees were robbing it of honey that was still stored inside.  And so I worked down the row, a puff of smoke at the entrance, toss the weights on top of the hive to the ground, and pry open the hive cover to say “hello.”

Over these two warm days, I found a few dead colonies.  Dead not because of mismanagement, but dead because of the extreme cold snaps this past winter.  In each dead hive, the bees were still in their cluster formation (see In The News page for the Feb 2011 Dan’s Papers article if you want to read specifics about winter clusters).  The bees died from starvation because they ate all the honey stored in the comb where they were and it was too cold for them to move and get the honey that was just a frame away.  Every dead hive had honey.  I gave the comb filled with honey to the live hives (saves them the work of robbing) and slowly cleaned away the bee bodies from the remaining frames and boxes.  I put some bee bodies by the groundhog’s den a few feet away and another pile of bees by a vacant bluebird house.  A foodweb offering of some kind thinking that the bee deaths somehow were kind of alright then?

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