Sunday, January 26, 2014

Late Winter Is Tricky For Survival

Looking out the window it's hard to imagine anything other than being in the middle of a cold and gloomy winter, but if you look closer mother nature is preparing the start of a new season.  More and more late winter plants are starting to come into bloom and in just a few months the air will be filled with nectar and pollen.  February and to some extent March are difficult for hives that survived the coldest months of winter to navigate.  Hives will need to start raising young and rebuilding numbers which means they need food, specifically pollen and nectar.

If a hive starts too late in the season to build up they aren't able to take advantage of the abundance of spring and early summer flowers and thus will miss the best window of time to reproduce (swarm).  However if they start too early and a winter storm moves in for more than a few days they get hit with two major problems.  One their food supply gets cut off, and the second is they have to try and keep their young warm.  Once they start building up and raising new bees they essentially put all their chips on the table and they will die to keep them warm and fed so timing is everything in this gamble to succeed.  Fortunately I've found that the bees are masters at predicting what's coming a season ahead and mother nature doesn't allow for sloppiness.

Speaking of plants in bloom, here are just a few the bees might be finding on those nicer days.

Loquat isn't very common to find but it always is covered in bees.

Viburnum tinus is a great all winter bloomer.

Bodnant Viburnum has come into bloom.

Helleborus is just starting to bloom providing a great winter pollen source.

Witch Hazel is coming into bloom.

Sarcococca ruscifolia may not be a native to the area but this small shrub fits right into our woodland gardens here in the Northwest.  This slow growing evergreen needs a shady spot and has low water requirements once established.  The late winter blooms of this plant are fairly insignificant, however the sweet fragrance those tiny flowers make leaves a lasting impression that will make you want to run out and buy one for your yard.  If there is winter sun the bees will find this one wherever you put it, however to get the most enjoyment from their scent you will ideally want to plant several near a walkway.  They also produce non-editable berries that are red or black that are often still on the plant the following season.

Overwintered Dandelion is blooming and provides both nectar and pollen.  Apparently winter this year was just mild enough for last years plants to overwinter for these early blooms.

Crocus are just starting to come up and are an excellent pollen source.

Winter Heather has been blooming for months.

Jasminum nudiflorum has started to bloom.

Hive Checks (1/20/2014)
The weather when I was checking today was about 40F which is typically too cold for an inspection.  However the sun was out and shining brightly and with top bar hives I can peak at the edges of the cluster without releasing much cluster heat because I'm not removing the roof.

- Not flying.  May not have a queen since I found one outside on the doorstep a few weeks ago.  Moved honey frames closer to the cluster.

Geek Daughter
- Not flying.  Moved honey frames closer to the cluster.

- I find it strange that these girls have been flying this season in the cool weather because they never have liked to fly in cool weather before.  Moved honey closer to the cluster.

Rosemary Swarm
- Added some honey frames from the Architect hive and some raw sugar.  They had a good number of bees coming and going.

Ballard Swarm
- Same as the Rosemary Swarm.  Added some honey frames from the Architect hive and some raw sugar.  They had a good number of bees coming and going.

Icon Granddaughter
- They didn't make it.  Looking at the frames the cause of death looks a little like they died during the deep freeze in late Nov/early Dec.  They were surrounded by honey on all sides and above.  The bees didn't look like they were sick and I want to say they died due to failure to cluster.

- They didn't make it.  It looks like the DWV that was there late summer took them out.  I wasn't sure if they could pull through going into fall since they had good numbers.  Pulling un-emerged bees from cells they all had DWV.

Hive Checks (1/25/2014)
It was just under 50F today and sunny.

To my surprise they were flying and looked like they were in good shape with plenty of honey nearby.  It seems that the new queen was able to power through the DWV that was taking hold in this hive last August.

They didn't make it. Small cluster without any food nearby on the frame.  It looks like they ignored all the sugar I gave them as well.

Hanging on but they didn't look very strong.  They were not near any honey and I put sugar into empty frames so they had something within reach.  If there are no major storms they have a chance of making it but otherwise I don't think the cluster is big enough to stay warm enough.  I have noticed that both this hive and the Luna hive seem to be in a cold spot even though they are at the peak of the hill in an otherwise sunny location.  I suspect the building and trees are creating a 10-15 foot micro climate around the hives that keeps these hives colder in the winter when the sun is further South.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff