After a long and spectacular fall, winter weather finally arrived in full force. On Monday morning at 9:30 am, it was 68 degrees. By 1:30 pm, it was 23 degrees. Temps were sub-zero Wednesday night and we got our first real snow of the season this week. Going from highs in the 70’s to highs in the teens has to be tough on the bees.
With winter approaching and beekeeping tasks waning, I thought I’d post a year end wrap up.
Spring was a time of worry as BnB1 came out of the winter with very few bees. While other hives that I’d seen were bubbling with bees, mine had very few. I opted to keep my queen and in May she started laying in full force. Perhaps she was in mite control mode – no brood means nothing for the varroa mites to develop on. When I did early season mite checks, there were very few to be found. I was hoping that BnB1 would have enough bees for a split, but that was not to bee.
I also built BnB2 and got a package of bees to populate her. They started off well and I stopped feeding them sooner than I did with BnB1 the year before. That might have been a mistake. In the end, they only built out 11 full combs and they should have 12 to last the winter. We also had a bad year for nectar so they didn’t make much honey. I kept hoping that there would be a late summer flow, but by September, nothing had changed. I opted to feed them, but then went on vacation so had to stop. When I came back, I thought it was too late to feed them, but talking with some other beeks, I realized I had to do something. So I gave them some 2:1 sugar syrup, but the days were not really warm enough for them to break cluster and take advantage of it, so most of it just sat there. I think I missed my window of opportunity.
BnB1 did have a late season honey flow, so this past weekend, I took some of their extra stores and moved it to BnB1. This was probably a pointless effort, because the weather then turned cold and now they won’t move to get the honey. If it’s still there in the spring and the bees aren’t, I’ll have a honey harvest – something I didn’t get this year except for the broken comb from BnB1.
I try not to interfere with the bees – I want them to be able to survive on what they can find themselves. I want to have bees that can last in this climate on the available forage – otherwise I feel like I’m working at an unsustainable practice. At the same time, I have to take to heart the advice of a beekeeper I respect who said, “You wouldn’t let your kids go hungry – why would you let your bees starve?” So, next year, if these bees don’t survive and I have to get new bees, then I’ll feed them a little longer while they build out their combs and hope for a good honey flow next summer.
The garden this year was good, but not spectacular. We’ve still got tomatoes ripening in the basement – they usually last until Thanksgiving each year. We’ve had to ripen more off the vine this year than last, but they still taste better than the ones from the store. We have some beautiful heirloom (Black from Tula) tomatoes that all came ripe at once last week. They are wonderful for a caprese salad. I was thinking about how my dad would have loved to have a slice of one of these on toast for breakfast – the flavor is incredible (and I’m not much of a tomato fan!). The cucumbers and squash got eaten by cucumber beetles. The cauliflower and broccoli didn’t head up this year – I have to figure out what that’s all about. A couple of the broccoli plants had little florets and I let these go to flower because the bees love them. When I was cleaning up the garden this past weekend, I felt bad about cutting them down because it was one of the few flowers left for the bees to feast on. I wanted them to get every last drop of nectar and pollen they could. I still have most of my potatoes in the ground – I hope the snow is insulating them so I can still dig them up. The blueberries survived, but the new strawberry bed was lackluster. The one thing we had in abundance this year was apples. We made some juice and cider (which is curing now). Next year, I tear up the lawn for the new garden that I didn’t get to this year.
The beekeeping highlight of the year for me was our trip to beekeeping sites in Slovenia. I really want to build a bee house like they use there, but I’d need more space for something like that. Maybe someday – a boy can dream. But it was good to talk with beekeepers in another part of the world and see that they have the same joys and worries that I have.
Just because the bees don’t require much tending now, doesn’t mean I won’t still be geeking out on bee stuff. I think I’ll try to make some candles this year from the wax I’ve collected over the past 2 years. I’ll make some more lip balm and try different flavors/ingredients. I know someone who wants me to put bees on her property, so I’ll build one or two more hives. I just got 4 books on bees, pollinators and permaculture, so I’ll have something to read on the bus to work. There’s still lots to do!
As I’m writing this now, another batch of snow is coming in, draping the world in white. My bees are all nestled, snug in their hives. In just over a month, as the cold really sets in, we’ll hit the Winter Solstice which will signal to the queens that it’s time to start thinking about spring and making new bees. Before I know it, I’ll have my smoker in hand again and a new season will begin.