Today's episode starts with a cool wind blowing across the hives in the apiary. Looks like it's finally cooling down here in Louisiana.
Unfortunately I have kind of gotten more in tune with the bees and the stories just are not as entertaining.
So as the cold descends upon us, the bees will begin to huddle in their hives.
The winters are short here in Louisiana but the weather is very unpredictable. Odd thing about bees, if it gets cold and stays cold they generally do not eat as much honey over the winter. "Why?" you ask. Good question. Well, when it is cold, the bees stay inside and huddle in a ball keeping the core warm. They rotate in and out of the cluster so everyone stays warm. They vibrate their wings to heat up and everyone stays nice and toasty.
However, if the temperatures start getting into the upper forty's,especially if the hive is in full sun, they will fly out, go to the bathroom and if it is warm enough, fly around looking for pollen and nectar. Sounds like reasonable bee behavior so far. The caveat is that in the winter there is no pollen or nectar for them to bring home. In essence, they fly around and waste energy that they have to regain by eating the honey in the hive. See how this work now?
It is a shame I can't control the weather. What I can do is try to make sure they have enough honey for the winter while figuring in the crazy weather here. Failing that, give them extra food.
Bees like honey kind of like a Sonny likes Coco Puffs. So I try to keep extra frames of honey in the freezer for emergencies. Failing that, table sugar (in several forms) is an adequate substitute.
To feed bees during the winter I have found that sugar right out of the bag seems to work pretty good. I spray it a bit with water to make it into a kind of solid pancake thing, let it dry out and plop that right on top of the frames. Actually "plop" is too strong a word. I suppose if I actually "plopped" it, it would make a huge mess. Let's say I gently lay it on the frames. I have also heard of people usinf frame feeders full of sugar from the bag. I have not tried it but it seems reasonable.
You can liquid feed if the weather is consistently warm as well. I kind of like filling gallon zip locks half way with 1:2 (one water to two sugar) sugar syrup. This is not an exact science. One gallon water to two gallons water, ten pounds water to twenty pounds sugar, whatever the bees don"t care. Fill the ziploc bags and place them directly on the top frames and make two to three slits on the top of the bag...the part that is flat toward the middle, If you cut toward the edges where the bag starts to curve you are going to have a mess, trust me on this one. Again, this is for when the weather stays over 45 to 50. Otherwise it will be too cold for the bees to drink. The down side is you can't really move the bags after slitting them o refill them. Maybe packing tape could seal them enough to move them. I have never tried. If you do let me know how it worked out for you.
I have added anise or lemongrass oils to the syrup to attract the bees to it but honestly, if you dump an extra jar of honey in there the bees seem to some running to it, I would not do this in spring though as the honey smell might induce robbing in the bee yard.
So that breaks down the food part of overwintering. Next I will talk about getting the hive itself ready.