During the last two weeks, winter has tortured us! Unseasonably cold temperatures with strong gusty winds pushed our wind chill near - 30 (F). Be calm as healthy colonies with plenty of food are quite capable of sailing through the winter without any problems.
Hi, we are David and Sheri Burns of Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois. We take our partnership with our bee students and customers very seriously. That’s why we are particular about the equipment we make and we sell only the best products. And if there isn’t one, we invent it! If you are interested in becoming a beekeeper, please check out our complete webpage on what to do next at: www.honeybeesonline.com/howtostart.html
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Sheri has informed me that we are getting low on the number of packages of bees that we can include in our Freedom Kits and Early Bird Specials. If you are wanting to start keeping bees or know someone who is thinking about it, the time is short to make plans. Act now or you will be disappointed in several weeks. See our complete line of products at www.honeybeesonline.com
In less than one month we will offer our first beginners class for 2015 bee season. We still have several seats open for Feb. 7th Beginning Beekeeping. It’s here at our honey bee farm and the nice thing about taking this early class is that you can return to any other beginner’s class during the year at no cost. We offer this opportunity for those who need to hear it again as a refresher course. Check out all of our classes at: www.honeybeesonline.com/classes.html
As beekeepers we really keep an eye on the weather. A week ago I saw where the temperatures were going to drop fast and the wind was going to be brutal. Some of my hives had no wind protection, so I decided to implement several experiments. I address the pros and cons of wrapping hives in my classes on, “Getting bees Through The Winter” and wrapping can be a disadvantage if not monitored and adjusted according to the weather. But wind protection can go a long way. And, I believe it can also be an added bonus to keep the hive dry in the winter. Of course, not doing anything sometimes works just fine too. But most beekeepers lost about 50% of their hives last winter, so I’m using this winter to observe the benefits of wind breaks. Already, I have made an interesting observation. My hives that had my experimental wind cover on them carried out house cleaning in temperatures well below freezing.
What I mean by house cleaning is that the colony removed dying or dead bees and dropped them away from the hive. Hives without this wind protection did not carry out house cleaning choirs. What house cleaning says to me is two things. 1) The bees are warm and healthy enough to work inside the hive. 2) If they can move around to clean up dead bees, then they can also move around and consume pollen, bee bread and honey. This week I’ll be receiving some additional monitoring equipment that will allow me to gather precise data to make better correlations.
Again this fall, we will be offering the same “Getting Your Bees Through The Winter” class on four different days. When we offer this class on September 26, this class will be removing most older bees from a colony and working to produce a colony that has minimal older bees that could potentially be carrying viruses from mites or be worn out from foraging. It will be an attempt to see how a colony overwinters with 80% new bees born in the fall into a colony with less than 3% mite infestation.
Dead Bees In The Snow
The interesting thing about dead bees in the snow is that they always seem to be slightly down in the snow as if they were warm enough to melt a little bit of the snow when they were first dropped. This just means that no matter when these bees died (usually of natural causes) they were above freezing in the hive. What I am also observing is the amount of dead bees that are dropped. This is interesting to me because I worked hard all fall to reduce mites and specifically raise brood that was not parasitized by mites and did not forage at all. These bees were raised in three specific time periods by caging my queen, giving me the brood exactly when I wanted it. It worked flawlessly. The dead bees I’m seeing now I hope are the older bees that were alive prior to the fall bees that I raised. This week, temperatures will be in the mid 30s (f). I plan to go out to change my Winter-Bee-Kinds candy boards.
Just a reminder, do not remove frames from your hives in the winter. You can replace Winter-Bee-Kinds, and take a quick look down into the hive, but you cannot remove frames for inspection until the outside temperature reaches at least 60 degrees (f). Also, wear protective clothing when opening a hive in the winter. They are quite capable of flying out and defending the colony.
Worry or Not Worry?
Should you be concerned about dead bees showing up in the snow around your hive? It is very benign during the winter. It can be a good sign as I noted above. However, excessive dead bees may indicate the hive is getting smaller in number and may be losing their ability to heat the colony’s cluster in extremely cold temperatures. In my drops last week, I counted 17 in the snow in front of one hive and 25 near another hive. That is benign. However if you count 200 or more, that may not be a problem if this was their first chance to clean house after a long winter. But if they are constantly dragging out hundreds a week, it could indicate the colony has a microsporidian or virus. If this is the case it is best not to worry, because there is nothing you can do in the winter anyway. However, if hundreds are dying a week from starvation, you can and MUST do something. Feed them with a Winter-Bee-Kind immediately to stop the starvation.
In the north, we experience a high number of bees dying in the winter, mainly because our winters are so long and so cold. It is not unusual for colonies to be reduced down to 20,000 or less in the spring as it starts to warm up. This is not always the case, but winters are hard.
Also, without snow on the ground, you might not ever notice or see dead bees because they blend in to the dirt or grass. A snowfall is when we notice them. However, they are being drop every day it is warm enough. You can build a board and place it in front of your hive. I’ve made them from OSB with 2x4 edges on the top edges to keep the bees from blowing off. Place it next to the hive about 4-5 feet out. You can count your bees daily and see if there is a correlation between cold snaps and number of dead bees.
If you have any questions this week or need to order hives or kits, please give us a call this week. 217-427-2678
David and Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms