Culling the weak

Protected by hay.

Winter is setting in and the snow’s flying.  Yesterday was warm, about 60!  The bees were active bringing in what they can find left.  There’s bright yellow pollen and a bit of nectar coming in still.  I believe both are coming from our native American Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana L.).

This time of year is bittersweet.  The bees are quietly waiting out the winter, which should give me a break from them.  On the other hand, it’s stressful being able to do so little to help them through this critical time.  After last winter’s losses, we had a lot of new hives this summer.  With the fickle weather they didn’t take off like they should have, so not only did we miss out on getting honey from them, but they also don’t have enough for themselves either.  To get them through, we block the cold north winds with hay bales, place insulation on the covers to hold back the cold from snow, and do our best to make sure the boxes have no gaps or cracks to let in the weather.

With the warm day, I took the opportunity to weigh the hives to see how much food they have, and popped them open to see how many bees each one had.  Several are borderline, but we’ll just have to gamble on them and hope for a short winter.  Three though were very light on food and bees.  They would surely starve by Christmas.  For these three, I found the queens and pulled them out, then combined all the food and bees into a single hive, leaving the best queen of the three (based on the summer’s records of performance).  This is risky, but at this time of year, there aren’t many options, and certainly no time.  This moves me from a guaranteed three lost to one with a chance.  Now we’re down to just 12 going into the winter.  We’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

Barn hives prepped for winter

Here we are in late August.  Change is in the air.  It’s still hot and sunny, but the bees know something’s coming.  They’ve shifted into winter prep.  The queen is focused on building up a population of bees to help her through the winter ahead, while the workers are feverishly gathering anything they can to fill every available space.  While winter doesn’t seem that close just yet consider it from the bee’s perspective.  12 bees spend their short lifetime collecting nectar, all to produce just 1 teaspoon of honey.  To survive a winter in Indiana, the bees need a lot more than that, in the range of 100 pounds or so!  The bees have built up well this year, but haven’t packed away quite as much as they’ll need to get by, so I’ll be watching this closely in the coming weeks.  All the hives are into their winter setup of 3 boxes.  They’ll be organizing things for the cold days ahead. Continue reading “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

And we’re off…!


It’s been a while since my last post.  Thanks to good weather I’ve had little time to spare so I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like.  At my last post news was not good.  We lost a lot of hives this year.  While we were still in winter mode awaiting spring, it suddenly jumped right to summer with May delivering day after day of high 90’s and little rain.  Blooms were good, but the dry weather did little in the way of nectar for the bees.  The pollen was great though, and the hives built up quickly.  I did my queen rearing a month late due to weather, but still got 8 new queens to add to my surviving 4.  I split several hives to receive them.  I also spent time with all the failed hives cleaning up frames and boxes, painting them and doing repairs as needed.  We also added some new equipment this year. Continue reading “And we’re off…!”

A rough start to 2018

Winter 2017 Survival

We’ve had a few warm days lately which gave a chance to check on the bees at home and the farm.  When things warm up, the bees come out for a stretch and a much needed bathroom break.  This also allows them to move around in the hive to find food if needed.  At a glance, I knew I had trouble with a few hives, so I decided to open each one up to see what was going on.  When I started opening the hives, I found  Continue reading “A rough start to 2018”

The good and bad of winter

Hives weathering the winter snow.

We’ve had a few extended cold spells here recently.  The snow has stuck this year longer than most years.  This isn’t a problem for the bees if everything goes well.  In winter, they consume honey to get the energy needed to generate heat.  When it gets very cold like we’ve had, down in the single digit temperatures, the bees form a tight ball with the queen protected in the center.  The colder it gets, the tighter Continue reading “The good and bad of winter”

Winter wraps

Winter Wrap

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about the bees.  In the fall, they slow down as they hunker down for the long winter.  I’ve checked them less often, making sure they’re in good shape but not enough to interfere with their process.  In the fall, they work to seal up any honey, use propolis to fill gaps and cracks, and generally go into winter mode.  We’re now seeing Continue reading “Winter wraps”

Finally into thirds

7-8-2017 All into thirds.

All the hives at the farm are finally up into their third box.  They still need to build the wax combs, then fill all the boxes with Continue reading “Finally into thirds”

Still finding food

7-1-2017 Bee on Mountain Mint (pycnanthemum virginianum)

This time of year can be hard on bees.  When the ground dries out, so do the flowers.  Luckily this Mountain Mint is providing some nice nectar for the bees today.

Butterfly Weed is in bloom!

The Butterfly Weed is now in bloom, and the bees have found it.  Asclepias tuberosa L. is a relative of Milkweed as can bee seen comparing the flowers of the two shown below.