Monday was the day to remove the last packets of spent medication, take a sounding of how much honey was stored up for the winter, and step back for the quieter days of winter. The past few months have left me filled with wonder about the bees, as well as fuddled by periods of bad temper, knocked out by the weight of hefting the honey they have stored, confused about the what and when of medications, and gratified by the help and insight of my fellow beekeepers. Who knew I would be hanging out with a veil after all!
This is how the colonies look today. Just for a blast from the past, below is a photo they looked on the day that I installed the honeybees, April 9, 2005:
Going into the hives, I realized that some of the honey disappearance that seemed to be going on was actually bee housekeeping: they move honey down to the bottom of the hive in the winter, into the area where they raise young bees in warmer weather. On cold nights – basically all nights now – they form a ball-shaped cluster over their stored rations. During the course of the winter, they munch upwards. One of the things I am supposed to look out for in the months ahead is whether the bees are nearing the top of the colony. If they do, it's kind of an all-battle-stations emergency to get them more food. Quick.
Monday's errand involved going all the way to the bottom of the Twain colony to remove the menthol packet which I should have grabbed before, and trying to find all of the screen packets of ApiLife Var anti-varroa medicine. After the last visit, I was a bit like a surgeon who is missing a scalpel, and fears the worst. I was also kind of curious about whether the girls had gone after the grease patties I tossed in, and I needed to be sure they were moved to the side (in order to stay out of the way of the cluster's upward movement in future).
We are going to be picture-heavy today, I think.
I started with Twain this time, taking on the heavy work first. The girls were pretty slow, I think because of the temperatures. Neither colony was particularly defensive. I thought I saw bees fighting, which would have been a bad sign, but it turned out to be workers kicking out relatively well-developed larvae. The bees have decided that they have the team they need to make it through the winter, I guess, so they are kicking out the young they cannot afford to feed.
Here's the top of Twain's brood area: you can see those bumptious bees have totally wolfed down the grease patty that was in the middle. The light brown area in the center is the humble remains of the parchment on which it was sitting. The actual piece of paper is edged with little bee bites. I have already pulled the med packets out here, and thankfully there were only the right number. Putting things back together, the bees seem dazed, though. I think the low temps slow down their bee CPUs, and I have to be careful not to step on anyone.
The voyage into Wilde came next. There is plenty of activity at the front door, maybe more than Twain, but these girls did not do much with their grease patty. I took away the med packets, pushed the patty to the side (broke it, though), and closed her up. A carpenter bee was hanging around Wilde, but it did not look like there was robbing. The top honey super seemed light, so I will give these girls some more syrup sometime (and hope they take it).
My work for the next months boils down to waiting for warm-ish days, then peeking inside to make sure that there are adequate stores. There will be few if any bees visiting me in the house for the next few months, and I will not be seeing them in the bird bath, or when I walk the dog. Sometimes I think of the honeybees as living sunshine, but we are now in the nighttime of the year.