Thursday, February 25, 2010

Something Lost. Nothing Gained.

We've been busy, as you can see, getting ready for spring and hoping that our bees were tough enough to make it through the winter. We've checked on them periodically and have a few losses to report. We lost one hive in January and five in February. This is disappointing of course, mainly for the fact that we don't know exactly why we lost them. We have some theories, but no good evidence.

One potential reason for the loss is of course the weather. Bees know how to survive in cold spells typically. They stay in the hive and cluster up around the queen to protect her. They surround her and begin to shiver to produce friction and thus heat; they eat stored honey to produce the energy to shiver all winter long. As the bees on the outside fringe begin to get cold, the move towards the center, and bees in the center move towards the outside. We used to believe that as long as they had enough to eat, they would be fine during the winter. Yet, this winter we found hives of dead bees, some just inches from many frames of honey!

Another hive we found, we suspect fell victim to a laying worker bee. This can occur when the queen dies or leaves. Worker bees can only lay drone eggs (male bees). Male bees occur when the egg remains unfertilized. So strangely enough, drones have no father, but they do have grandfathers. (It's not quite as Jerry Springer as it sounds). Hives cannot subsist with a laying worker and eventually die out.

Mites are also another lethal foe to the honey bee or it could have been dysentery. Really, we have no idea. We will just keep trying to keep them fed and hope for the best.

We hope to have no further losses. We managed to save the honey in the lost hives to use in early spring to build up and hopefully split some strong ones we have left. Time will tell. Some times things go your way and sometimes you end up with a mess....


New Designs for a Long Winter

We have been trying a new strategy with a few of the bee hives this year (i.e. it's been a long, dreary winter and Greg and James have numerous "projects" going in order to keep busy in the bee lair).

This picture is a more rustic design of bee hive, which is both functional and interesting. First, we will describe the functionality of this design. According to some, a different type of hive can serve as a compass of sorts. Bee hives normally look the same, and are lined up like soldiers ready to be sent to battle. Some apiarists choose to use different colors and graphic designs on the hives to help the bees determine the "address" of their home hive, while also helping the keepers to determine which hive is which. Another good reason for this design is to provide extra weight on the top of the hive. We have had some instances of hives getting blown over and thought this may provide a bit of protection from the wind.

As far as attractiveness, well beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The lady of the apiary was none too thrilled with the new design and made a royal proclamation: "Not in my yard!" Time will tell how many of our regular hives get converted. It may well depend on the weather and how much longer our bee squad is trapped inside.

Here is a picture that provided inspiration for the new, rustic design. We honestly don't remember where we stole, I mean, obtained this image. If anyone knows to whom to give credit, please let us know.