It had been over 6 months since we last checked on our bees. We did no winter preparation for them, no providing of supplemental food beyond in April when we first installed them, and really took mostly a hands off approach. This winter then was one of the coldest and snowiest we've had in years. Other colleagues we've talked to with hives have said that none of theirs have made it through the winter. So when we were finally able to get out to the hive yesterday our hopes were not high. We were already planning to have to order new bees.
But..... when we took the top cover off we saw movement, there was a bee walking around in there. Removing the top super we saw that the bees were still there and alive! We're sure their number are down as would be expected, but there is at least a core of them there.
On our trip we were really not expecting to find live bees, so much that we didn't even bring our hive tool along. As such we really couldn't look too closely at the frames to see how much honey they still have available or to see if the queen was still around. We did have a bag a sugar we thought about giving them for food but then decided against it.
The author of another blog I read frequently seems to always be feeding her bees. I understand when you install a hive the need to do that as they have nothing to eat from the trip. But bees are wild creatures who have lived for centuries without human help; including over wintering year after year. We'd like our bees to be as natural as possible and to me feeding them is not natural. Just like bears, raccoons and other wildlife can become habituated to being feed, perhaps this can also happen to bees and make their colony actually weaker if provided a food source rather then having to seek it out for themselves.
I could be way wrong on those assertions but it is something we are going to try and follow with our bees with keeping it as natural as possible. I will admit that for my wife's observation hive in her office she does provide some food during winter. It is only a 4 frame hive though so there is no way for them to store up enough honey for the winter. During the summer as they fill a frame with honey she removes it and sticks it in the freezer, then during the winter as needed she give them back the same honey they had created earlier in the year by swapping out frames.
OH, one more thing I forgot to mention. It was only 45 degrees out so we didn't expect to see much flying from the bees but a few did come out when we opened up the hive. During winter bees hold in their poop for long periods of time and then do "cleansing flights" when it's actually warm enough to go fly. Often if there is snow around a hive you may see yellow or orange drops around the hive entrance from this. Well, my wife noticed that one of the bees that came out to fly pooped right in front of her. Then when we got to the van I noticed something orange on her face. Yep, the bee got her with poop! The funny thing was that while walking back up my wife kept thinking she smelled apricots. Sure enough it was the poop and there are apricot trees around the hive and I bet the honey they produced has a apricot flavor to it.
Package Installation – one week in
1 week ago