Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn, my God, do you learn.

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Winter Storm...and more on the way!

The snow started falling at 1:00, Friday afternoon. By 5:00, this is what the garden and yard looked like.

After 10" of snow had fallen on Friday night, the ice started to fall. This is what Saturday looked like. The tree limbs started to snap and thousands in the area were without power. Many still are. We were lucky. No power outages, but this is a long way from over. Temps tonight will be single digits. The birds are hungry!

Sunday morning - the sun is shining but the trees are heavily laden with ice. All around we can hear the sound of limbs breaking as the ice from the upper limbs falls on the lower ones. More wintry weather is predicted for Tuesday and then for Thursday and Friday.
I won't speculate on the fate of the bees in my Ora hive. The garden gate is frozen solid and I don't know when I'll be able to get to the hives. This has been a very difficult winter.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Death of Walter Gives Life to Ora

On Wednesday, after I discovered that my Walter hive had died, I spent a short time inspecting the frames in the shallow super. Two frames on each side were partially filled and capped with sourwood honey. The remaing 6 frames were pretty much empty except for the headfirst bodies of dead bees. There was also a small cluster of dead bees toward the front center. The day was fairly mild and there were a few days flying outside Ora. I had some sugar syrup made up and put the boardman feeder on the top of the hive. The bees were taking some of the food, but the day cooled quickly and most bees disappeared back inside. Thursday was a different story! I started inspecting the brood box in Walter about 11:30 and shortly after many, many bees started pouring out of Ora. My compost boxes sit right next to the hives and I close the hinged tops and the boxes make a great work table. I had removed the frames containing the sourwood and it didn't take the girls long to find the golden honey. They were also going crazy in the boardman. The picture above shows lots of bees flying and also a mass of bees on the bottom entrance. Below, I moved 1 of the frames of honey to the open top of Walter so I could continue working on the other frames. (These were some of the first frames I had ever built and I needed to add nails to the bottoms as some were coming apart from the weight of the honey they had once contained.) There were bees everywhere!

Above and below, bees eating that golden sourwood. Since the girls were paying very little attention to me, I used my hive tool and scraped away some of the cappings to make their work a little easier. I didn't get a picture, but after I removed the cappings, this frame was black with bees.

Below, bees are taking advantage of every drop of honey they can find - wax cappings, nail that I used to scrape the hive tool and even the hive tool, although the photo missed the one that was feeding there.

Friday was another beautiful day and I spent much of the late morning working with Ora. I gave the bees another quart of sugar syrup and also opened the rest of the capped sourwood. I left the brood box and the super open and the girls spent lots of time cleaning out all the honey and stored pollen they could find. I feel encouraged about this colony of bees but winter is a long way from being over in the mountains and I won't stop worrying soon.

I'm sad over the loss of Walter. I've questioned things I did or didn't do. I've talked to friends, got the Ross Conrad book out and started reading, again. I appreciate the encouraging comments here and by email. Beekeepers truly are a fraternity of friends and I'm proud to be part of that group even though we never agree on anything. I'll post next on what I didn't find in Walter and what I think may have happened.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Death In The Beeyard

Walter is dead. There is no other way to put it. Everyone knows much of the US has been in a deep freeze for the past few weeks. There was a major snowfall here on December 16 and a lot of that snow is still on the ground. I was able to check on my bees on December 27 and posted that I could hear activity in Ora and, on that day, there were many bees outside of Walter. I was able to feed that hive for a couple of days before the really cold weather set in. I was encouraged that both hives were showing activity and good signs of life. I had not seen any bees since December 29. Our temps have barely been out of the 20's and many days not above the teens and morning lows have ranged between 3 and 9.

Our temps finally warmed to the upper 40's today and by midday I could see bees out flying. I headed for the garden and before I even got to the hives I was a bit concerned. I could see many bees flying out of Ora but none around Walter. I immediately removed the entrance reducer on Walter and sadly saw many, many dead bees on the screened bottom board. I rapped on the side and could hear no sound from inside. Having decided that the hive was probably dead, I went ahead and opened it. Sadly, all the bees inside were dead. Quite simply, they had starved to death.

Walter had been a strong hive going into fall and there was a full, shallow super of honey that I thought, along with the honey in the brood box, would suffice for the time the bees were clustered during the cold weather. I took out most of the frames in the shallow and most all the honey was gone. The obvious sign of starvation was the many bees headfirst in the empty cells. Tomorrow, as the temps rise even more, I will take the rest of the hive apart and look for any other signs of why the hive might have failed. I think they just ate themselves to death. Even though Ora still feels quite heavy, I will feed for the next few days if the bees will take the sugar syrup.

Walter was named for my grandfather who has been my inspiration to garden and keep bees. My grandfather was a wonderful, but stubborn man. He didn't like to fail and his granddaughter is much like him. I consider it a good, strong quality. I'm still very much a beginner beekeeper and I have so much to learn. I'll continue to ask questions, attend bee schools, read, read and read. I will not give up my organic practices because I don't think these bees were sick. I will rethink how I go into winter next year. There will be another colony of bees in Walter.

I posted the picture at the top to remind myself why I keep bees. My garden wouldn't be the same without them. Spring will come.