When the honey bees start to swarm, it's a great sign that spring has finally arrived! So I thought it was the perfect time to bring you up to date on the family honeybees. I recently realized that it has been 5 years since we got into the “bee business" here in VA under my Dad’s careful watch and mentoring. My son got his first hive 5 years ago this month after he worked with his grandfather in getting all of the bee equipment ready and built in anticipation of getting his first “nuc” of bees from a local beekeeper. My Dad had been a beekeeper since he was a teen, so he had a wealth of knowledge to share with a beginning beekeeper.
Within each hive, the optimal temperature at any one time is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the best temperature for the emerging brood (baby bees) to develop normally. When the temperature outside is below that, the bees keep the internal hive temperature at 89-95 degrees by clustering together and beating their wings to cause friction and maintain the heat. In the summer, when temps go above 95 degrees, the bees will stand outside the entrance of the hive and beat their wings to fan cool air into the hive as a sort of air-conditioning. They maintain a temp of around 95 degrees year-round!
During the warmer months, a beekeeper will inspect his/her hives regularly to make sure (a) the Queen is strong, (b) there are no signs of small hive beetles that can destroy a hive if left unmanaged, (c) the bees are building up their stores of honey, and (d) that the overall health of the colony is good. The problem is: unless temperatures are at least 50 degrees, a beekeeper is unable to open the hive for an inspection. Imagine if someone threw open all your windows and pulled off the roof of your house so they could look inside in the dead of winter… yikes! You’d be freezing in no time! The same goes for a hive of bees. They need to maintain their 95 degrees. If baby brood gets chilled, the larva will die. So what happens in winter? Well, the beekeeper waits and hopes that everything is well within each hive. There are ways to surmise if they are ok, but until they are opened up, it’s mostly a guessing game.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit him and check in on the hives. Inspecting the hives can be a bit tricky since they are busy working and don't want us humans bothering them! So having an extra set of hands to aid in quickly making an inspection is always helpful. While I was there, I took the video that follows.
Bee Hive Reducers and Multiple Entrances
Reducers are used to make the entrance of the hive smaller, allowing just enough space for a couple of bees to come and go. Most times they are used over winter to help close off the cold air from coming in. They also help to keep any unwanted "guests," such as mice, from coming in to find a warm shelter. Once the overnight temperatures start to moderate in spring to consistently above-freezing, the reducers are removed. The reducer you see in the video has since been removed to allow a larger opening at the hive entrance so more bees can come and go more quickly as they bring back loads and loads of pollen.
Over the past two weeks, my son has been trying to keep up with his "girls," as I affectionately like to call the bees. He has been busy building more hive boxes and frames, plus catching swarms that have decided to take flight. So far, he has dealt with 5 swarms.
As you can see in the picture, this swarm of bees (the dark brown clump in the branches) is on the branch in the center of the yellow circle well above my son's head. If you look closely near the bottom of the ladder, you'll see a white box. That's the bee box ready for the bees to drop into to make a new home. His plan is to shake the branch of the tree so the bees drop into the box.
Trying to reach them was quite the feat. It took...
Whew! I'm tired just thinking about it! But... good news! He was able to catch this swarm and they are settling into their new home.
Spring is here and the girls are already building up each of their colonies. They are hard at work hatching out new workers that will fly back and forth from flower to flower collecting precious pollen that they will turn into that wonderfully sweet golden substance we call honey!
Until next time, please remember to plant bee-friendly plants and avoid using pesticides and fungicides. The "girls" need all the help they can get to survive! Tweet your support with #savethebees.
Have a "sweet" Spring!