Monday, June 13, 2005

It's Too Darn Hot

honeybees fanningIt appears that beekeepers complain alot about the weather. At least this one does. We had a long, cold, slow Spring: the stats show this, as does my pallid excuse for a garden thus far. But the past two weeks have seen the temperatures shift into high gear, 5, 10, 15 degrees above normal. Due to the cold Spring and the insistent rain the main nectar flow was short and small here, but sometimes there can be a secondary flow from Dutch clover (and we had a lot of it around the 'hood). But Dutch clover does not like scorching and dry, and guess what came right after the shrimpy main bloom?

* Sigh. *

So I plan to keep feeding the bees as long as they will take sugar syrup from me, but this is a less desirable source of carbs than the natural plant nectars. At the Bee Field Day a week ago, one of the master beekeepers mentioned that bees fed a sugar syrup diet have a lifespan that is perhaps a week shorter than normal: the bees have to work extra hard to convert the sucrose into the sugars they can digest. Maybe with a little research I can find something better for them.

But it is so very hot now, and the bees are working very hard at cooling the colonies. The picture today is of a behavior called "fanning" that serves to cool and ventilate the hive. The girls poke their rear ends away from the colony and flap their wings to create a breeze. They burn a lot of energy doing this, and it keeps them from other hive activities like spinning comb or feeding larvae. This sucks for Colony 2, but for Colony 1 this is too expensive to maintain.

We have talked about ways to cool the hives, and I tried to buy some Tyvek at the hardware store to cover the black roofing material on which the hives stand. We hoped it would help reduce the amount of heat absorbed by the immediate surroundings. But there won't be any in stock until Friday, and I am not sure it will make enough of a difference.

So a few days ago I ordered something called "Bee Cool," a kind of Bee AC. I am somewhat ashamed of this purchase, so please, fellow beekeepers, go easy on me. Nonetheless, I have been eagerly awaiting the mailman, and wishing-like-hell every hot and humid day that it was already here.

Today was a bee-working day, in part to refill the syrup and in part to execute the continuing plan to save Colony 1. Many bees got squashed, I am afraid: the plan was to find two frames with lots of capped brood from Colony 2, and transfer them over to Colony 1. This is a last ditch effort, I have decided. After this, the struggling girls are on their own to flourish or not by September. If there are not enough of them, or enough honey stored, I will join the two colonies in the Fall. This means killing the new Queen.

In order to get to the part of Colony 2 where there was capped brood, I had to work my way down two honey supers. "Honey supers" are the hive boxes with frames like any other, but the bees fill them with comb full of honey rather than allowing the queen to lay eggs in them. The top super wasn't very full, but the next one must have weighed 30 pounds. This is very good.

When I got to the third box down, I found two decent combs of capped brood, trying not to take one where the queen might be. I did not see her today. The capped brood is most helpful to a struggling colony because the babies inside already have all the food, etc., they need to hatch and become workers. The stressed colony does not have to take care of them at all. Some of the workers from Colony 2 insisted on staying with the frames, though I tried to shake and brush them off. This is where the most bee carnage occurred. Let's hope I was right about the Queen being elsewhere, or I may be joining those colonies sooner than I thought.

Colony 1 has not improved appreciably since the last time I went in, more than a week ago. They just don't have enough bees. The queen is in there, and she is laying everywhere she can, but she does not have enough to work with. When the two new frames hatch, perhaps we will get a more virtuous circle going. Maybe we will know as soon as next week. There are young'uns baking in there already!

honeybees fanningIn closing, I am feeling a little bee fatigue. I think about them all the time, and after this major manipulation (well, it feels like one to me), the worrying about possible mistakes and outcomes is nagging around the edges, and I just don't need it. It will be a big relief when the Bee Cool gets here, and I know that the stress from the heat is substantially relieved. I'll keep pouring the syrup and hoping for the best, maybe with fewer heroics.

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