After a tumultuous fall and winter left me with less time for beekeeping (and blogging) than I would have preferred, by mid-January, I was finally beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Time to get equipment cleaned up, take some really good mite board readings, plan for splits and new projects, and generally prepare for spring. And then, to quote one of my favorite children’s books, “the Opposite happened.” I elected to have a troublesome knee issue addressed: surgery, with eight days lead time and a projected two-month recovery period. What should have been my next task, a thorough evaluation of my colonies, quickly telescoped down to several cursory after-work triage visits. So here are some late-winter tasks I “shoulda” done, contrasted with what I was actually able to accomplish…
- Collection board assessment Shoulda: Mite boards, while not providing as reliable a picture of varroa infestation as an alcohol wash or sugar shake, can give some valuable information about things going on in the winter hive at a time when more accurate methods are impractical. Tight clustering can effect natural mite drop, so these winter readings are more useful to identify the placement and, to some extent, the size of the cluster. Clusters that have shifted close to the wall of a hive lose contact with part of their honey stores. Knowing this allows a beekeeper to take advantage of a warm day to quickly center the cluster, placing frames of stores on both sides. In order for the mite board to work properly, it must be left in for two days (two trips to the bee yard) and the screened bottom board must be cleared of accumulated detritus to allow new, more informative debris to fall through. Mouse infestation can also become apparent on the collection board. Because I didn’t have the time for the two visits required for a good collection board reading or the timely, warm weather that would have allowed a hive manipulationt, I was unable to do the centering that would assure my bees’ access to their stores. Did: What I did do was to clear the entrances and floors of debris, allowing for good air circulation and traffic, should the weather permit. I have noticed that, if the colony is healthy and the weather mild, the bees will do their best to clean house, resulting in dead bees piling up behind the mouse guard. Observing the entrance for dead bees has proven a good problem indicator for me; dead bees at the entrance mean a colony at work, while a total lack often indicates that a colony is either too weak to take care of house-keeping or has succumbed completely.
- Condensation Shoulda: This is one task that is quick, easy, and whose benefits last at least two weeks. In addition to installing screened bottom boards and vented openings at the top of my hives, I use bath towels to absorb the excess moisture that rises as the colony respires. While there are many ways to address condensation above the cluster, I like the way this method prompts me to visit to my bees at least every couple of weeks to change out damp towels. My towel boxes are now ventilated (handy in summer) and can accommodate moisture absorbing materials or supplemental feed, as necessary. I also found that having a small screen between the towel and my bees makes the job faster. I can get my face very close to the inner cover opening without a sting to the nose. Being able to hear (silence or a quiet buzz), smell (wholesome honey or must and fermentation), and feel (moist heat or still, cold air) gives me another way to evaluate the status of the colony. In this task, I earned a Did!
- Check for stores Shoulda: Making sure hives are properly provisioned is critical, especially as brood production increases after winter solstice. A hive heft is sometimes the best that can be done when snow and rain prevail. Upon doing a routine heft and towel change in one colony, however, I noticed that a large number of bees were gathered on top of the frames just below the hole in the inner cover. Most of my colonies’ clusters are still roughly in the center of their hives, with no bees visible at the inner cover and honey left above for late winter consumption. While this hive hefted quite heavy, the fact that the bees were at the top of the hive with months of inclement weather ahead troubled me. The day’s weather was mild(@50°F), but not conducive to a full inspection. A few bees were venturing out and bringing in a little pollen, so I knew that a quick lid lift was probably safe.
While an adventurous neighbor (and photography buff) looked on, I quickly and carefully placed a couple of extra boxes of honey and pollen on top of the existing boxes and closed the hive back up. Most of my colonies only got a cursory heft, but this one should be stocked until I can get back to it in a month. So, a lot of Shoulda on this chore, but one nice Did!
- Other Shouldas: This long, ambitious list of items includes cleaning up equipment from fall dead-outs; scraping frames; melting out old comb; sanding and painting exterior woodenware; leveling hive stands; extracting supers from defunct colonies; processing wax cappings; finishing my experimental hive bodies; and reading. If I have any sense, I will wait on most of these until the good doctor clears me. In the meantime, I’ll be…
Great job(s) Kelly…especially with your healing knee!!!! I can’t imagine how you can look at the collection boards without bending your knees!!!
I see 3 forsythia blooms today and activity on my collection boards. I also had time and weather today to go thru my weakest hive and recenter the brood (very small amount now), move honey frames close to where the brood area is and recenter honey frames on top. I’ve been waiting for this hive to crash all winter but it keeps on surviving.
I hope I wasn’t confusing…I did what I could prior to my surgery, which unfortunately meant no collection board reading. I’m afraid I was just trying to prepare my colonies for my extended absence; it will likely be several more weeks before I’m cleared for rough terrain. How I wish I had an observation hive so I could satisfy my bee craving from my living room. : ) Good job on that tiny hive–I have great hopes for it!