Last weekend was fairly mild, so I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to open up the hive and check on the girls. From the outside, I’ve been watching them bring in pollen and everything was looking hunky-dory. But even with a window on the side of the hive, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on until you open it up. This is the time of year that many hives fail because the bees starve to death, sometimes within inches of food. If the weather is too cold, they won’t leave the cluster to get honey for energy and die.
I’ve decided to try using less smoke this year. Somewhere I read that since bees don’t have eyelids, blowing smoke in their faces is downright nasty. (I know it does make them run away). So last weekend I decided to just use the occasional mist of water if I needed them to move. At the back of the 16 combs I left them for the winter, there were a couple that were still full of honey – a good sign that they hadn’t eaten everything up. They hadn’t touched the fondant, so I took that out. But between the full honey combs and the bulk of the bees, there was a lot of empty comb which is a problem because during the cold snaps, the bees can’t move across that vast space to get to the abundant stores of honey. As I worked my way forward, towards the area where the brood nest should be, I found comb after empty comb and no bees which had me a bit concerned. As I got closer to the front, eventually some bees started coming out to see what was going on. And the fever of the bees buzzing around my head was increasing. This was both disconcerting (since I didn’t have any smoke to calm them down) and exciting because it meant they were defending something. Fortunately, I had a bee suit and veil between us. I had one little bee sting me on the glove. I felt bad that she wasted her life to no avail. I got all the way to the front, found some more bees, but found very little brood (eggs, etc) and no queen. There was also a new hum coming from inside the hive as I worked my way forward. I’ve heard that when bees lose a queen, the hive will turn out a mournful hum. Since I’ve never heard that particular hum and this was a noise that I’d never heard, I was hoping I hadn’t accidentally killed the queen as I was moving forward. There were new bees running around, so she must have been there recently.
I was concerned that there was very little brood and very few bees (probably < 1000 left from the 20K+ last fall). Usually the queen starts laying a few eggs after the winter solstice to start replacing the old bees and that laying should increase as the equinox approaches. I’ve seen posts by other beekeepers who talk about the amount of brood they have already, even in Colorado. But my hive has just a couple of small patches. It’s still early, but they’ll need to have a lot of new bees to take advantage of the upcoming bloom season. It takes 21 days for a new bee to be born, so the queen better get cracking!
I moved a couple of the full honeycombs to the front and started closing the hive back up, replacing the bars one by one. I found the queen on bar 5 which had a little brood on it, but she was wandering around by herself, not being followed by attendants like she usually is. At least she is still there.
The weather has turned cold again, so I’m sure they are all clustering to keep warm. Hopefully, the honey I moved closer to the brood will help. Maybe the queen knows that it’s still too early and cold to raise a bunch of new bees and keep the brood warm enough. I’ll wait a couple of weeks to check on them again. For now, all I can do is wait and wonder….