Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter In the Pacific Northwest and Hive Styles

Here it is late January and Winter has finally made an appearance in the Pacific Northwest and temps have been bouncing around freezing for the last few weeks.  This is typically a cold time of year and I would expect several more cold snaps like this before the nicer days of spring arrive.  This first cold spell isn't usually too hard on the bees and it's what they've been getting ready for, but the next one is the one you have to watch out for.

With our mild climate mosses and fungus grow all winter long.  However that's not to imply they don't grow equally as well the rest of the year here in the northwet.

After this cold spell we are adjusting back into the mid to upper 40's and most hives will typically start raising brood.  Another long cold snap can catch weaker hives off guard and force them to cluster around the brood.  If they aren't lucky they can end up in a situation where the cluster can't reach food.  It can be hard to imagine dying because they can't reach something that's as close as an inch away, but that is exactly what happens because they will not leave their young.  By Mid-March we are usually though the week long cold spells and a few cold days here and there don't usually create this trapping/starvation situation.  Of course this all depends on there actually being food in the hive for them to eat.  If there's nothing left then you need to feed which is a whole other issue and likely means you are over harvesting or not feeding enough in August.

 Bulbs have a huge energy reserve they tap to push their blooms up through the cold winter soil for early spring flowers. 

Now that it's actually been freezing most of the winter flowers that are around are looking pretty sad right now so all I have is these gloomy winter pictures.  However if you look carefully you can see signs that warmer days and flowers are not long off.  Spring bulbs are pushing up through the soil and buds are swelling.  A few days of warm sunshine and the flowers will open and the bees will be busy again.

Seeds from the fall asters.

A common pacific northwest native that blooms in February is the Western Hazelnut (or Filbert).  This is one of the earliest bloomers in the area and produces a good amount of pollen from "male" blooms called catkins.  Being a native plant these trees do well in full sun or part shade and grow very long roots that enables them to handle our dry summers extremely well.  Due to their long roots these trees are very difficult to transplant and do best when planted from seed.  You can find these trees all over the city thanks to the tasty nuts they produce that the squirrels will devour or hide before letting you get even one.

Hazelnut catkin waiting for a sunny day to open and start producing pollen. 

Last month I talked a bit about a few common ways to get bees and this week we are going to talk a little about the different types of hives that are legal to keep in this area (Langstroth, Warre, and Top Bar).  In Washington state, and many other places, your hives must allow you to remove and inspect the individual combs on a regular basis.

The most common hive style is the Langstroth hive using either 8 or 10 frames.  These are the square box hives that most people think of when they think of a bee hive and they follow a strict standard that makes their parts easy to order and their frames can be readily exchanged with any beekeeper that keeps this hive style.  There are also three box sizes for these types of hives, deep, medium or western, and a super and people will mix and match these to suit their needs typically based on the weight of the box they want to lift when full of honey and bees.  While it is common for beekeepers use foundation based frames you can also manage these hives with natural comb frames.  Common reasons I hear people wanting to use the shorter 8 frame modification is to cut down on the box weight and to more closely mimic a cavity size closer to what they might find in the wild.

Warre hives like Langstroth use stacked boxes to manage the bees and the bees build natural comb off the top bars.  One key difference is that you add new boxes to the bottom of the hive instead of the top allowing the bees to build down into the new box.  Warre hives are more narrow than a Langstroth hive and make use of a quilt above the top box to absorb moisture.

Top Bar Hives (TBH) are horizontal hives with a solid roof above the bars that the comb is built from.  Unlike the other hive styles the TBH does not require you to move boxes of comb around making them easier on your back.  Inspections only expose one section of comb at a time as you move through the frames that can help reduce the chance of starting a robbing situation and can make it easier to inspect more aggressive bees.  These hives require more time from the beekeeper to keep the comb aligned.

With those thoughts spring is just around the corner and the bees will be busy in no time.  Here's a picture of some beautiful new comb with some spring pollen and nectar.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff