If one hive inspection (down to the bottom board) isn’t enough, then do it twice! In three days! Just so you know, this is NOT recommended but I had to: I went through both hives completely on Sunday and then again this afternoon because I didn’t have a plan for the empty comb I found on Sunday. But Monday I came up with a plan so Tuesday I went back in. Sigh. Please learn from my mistakes.
When bees are huddled together during the winter they consume honey to provide the energy they need to heat the cluster. They DO NOT heat the entire hive, they heat the CLUSTER of bees. They move from frame to frame of honey, consuming as they go, moving up when the stores below are used. This works well when there are periods of warm-ups in the temps during winter. However, if there is a long stretch of very cold weather, the bees won’t be able to break cluster to find another location with honey. They can literally starve to death (classic presentation is dead bees head-down in the cells so all you see are their little butts) as they try to scrape every vestige of honey out of the cell. They can starve to death inches, INCHES, away from honey. Only because it was so cold they couldn’t move out of the cluster. But of course, you need to have food in the first place.
Sunday showed me that Melissa (the original weak hive) did not have enough in either deep, there was lots of empty comb and unworked foundation despite the feeding they’ve been getting. In Demeter, the purple hive, I found maybe 3 empty frames in the bottom deep, the entire upper deep was full of capped stores. I found both queens in the bottom deeps on Sunday.
I knew I had to consolidate Melissa onto all honey, there could be NO empty frames. If the bees moved onto empty frames in the winter, forget about the hive, you’ve killed it. So Monday morning as I’m lying in bed and thinking about what the bees will do in the winter, it dawns on me: get rid of the empty frames, move the full ones from the top deep to the bottom and take off the top deep which would not have anything for them. Then put the medium full of honey on top of the one remaining deep.
For Demeter I needed to move some of their full frames from the top deep to the bottom (since the bottom outside frames were empty) and then put those empty frames in the top deep to give them a place to store the syrup (essentially switching places).
I ran my plan by Jim Fraser (beekeeper in Mount Airy) and he said it sounded good. Just to make sure I left empty comb and not foundation for the strong hive to fill. I’m glad he said that.
So today was the warmest day of the week and I left work early to get this done during the afternoon. Needless to say, they were extremely unhappy with me. Extremely. I got headbutted so many times and stung on my gloves that I could actually smell the alarm pheromone. I even got stung through my glove! Bees can tolerate some disruption but an extensive inspection 2x in 3 days is just asking for trouble. I knew it and I was ready. It just had to be done, that’s it.
Today, I did exactly what I planned: consolidated Melissa into one deep and one medium, it is now almost completely filled with CAPPED honey/sugar syrup. Demeter got full frames in the bottom deep, I moved several frames from Melissa that had incomplete stores into Demeter so they can finish up (their population has always been stronger).
I am still feeding them, one quart jar in each hive and a bucket feeder outside.
These are the foundationless frames I put in about a month or so ago.
I left these frames in Demeter, there are only 4 that they were working on. So I put them into a medium with a syrup jar next to them. I will not leave them in over the winter but I’ll have them ready if they need them.
I also replaced yucky looking Beetle Blasters with fresh ones filled with oil and cider vinegar.
Tips: 1. Despite the MAQS treatment which precluded any feeding in the hive, I could have still fed them heavily by providing open feeding (out in the yard). I missed a week’s worth of feeding because I wasn’t thinking.
2. When planning to move one of the deeps, have an empty one around into which you can transfer the frames to lighten the load (I actually had one just for this but I forgot to get it out of the shed!)
3. Pillow cases are a dream, I love them and use them at each hive inspection. I lay it on top of the box and it drives the bees down without angering them or hurting them. Plus the pillow case keeps away robbers and other pests like yellow jackets and hornets from the open boxes.
4. To keep the smoker lit for over an hour (!!!) it took some practice on my part. What worked: I stuffed the bottom of the smoker with pine needles, put in the cotton fiber fuel (just a little), added a little more fuel and lit it. When it was roaring, I added more pine needles slowly until it was full and I kept gently puffing the bellows. Once it was roaring again, I put the lid on and it stayed lit and smoked beautifully the whole time! I was very excited since it had gone out about 5x before I got it right.
Next time I’ll tell you about my sad attempts at making fondant.