February in the Midwest is the time for beekeepers to try to find a day with warm enough weather to check up on the hives. It is a critical time of year. The bees are running low on the honey they stored (or that the beekeeper left for them) and a hive that runs out of honey in the late winter will not survive. The bees also need protein at this time. A queen bee begins laying eggs again in January and the larvae need protein. That protein comes from the pollen the bees collected over the summer. If there isn't enough of that left, the larvae, or brood as beekeepers call it, will not develop into strong healthy bees. Yesterday was one of those days here in Chicago. Sixty three degrees, sunny and perfect for checking hives.
At the end of our beekeeping season last Fall there were fifty hives in the apiary. Of those fifty, fourteen were still alive yesterday. While that is a heavy loss, it is actually a hopeful sign. There have been years when we lost all our bees.
Just a word here for those who are thinking Colony Collapse Disorder, No, that is not what caused the losses. Honey bees are subject to bacterial infections, fungal infections, parasitic mites and other pests all of which can, at the very least, undermine the health of a beehive. We can't look inside a hive and tell what caused it to fail but there is no shortage of possibilities.
So what went on at the apiary yesterday?
On a warm day in winter honeybees will come outside and fly so it's pretty easy to tell which hives are still OK. Each of the living hives gets opened up and a brief inspection is made to see if the bees have enough honey. If not, one of the dead hives is opened up and frames of honey are taken from there and put into the good hive in a place easy for the bees to reach when they are clustered together on cold days.
So, checked and supplied the hive gets closed up and the bees are ready to get through the next bout of cold weather. With luck we might get all 14 hives to make it until the first spring nectar flow.
Next time - Where do bees come from?