Thursday, May 2, 2013

Beekeeping in the Snow

It is May 2nd, 2013 and last night we got another foot of snow. I simply can't tell you how weather weary I am. I am hearty stock, Minnesota born and raised. I learned to drive in the snow. I like the cold. I like snow. But people, I am sick and tired of it! In April alone we had at least four large snow storms. There isn't a single thing blooming, you can hardly detect green in the horizon. The snow has been relentless. I can count on one hand how many sunny days we have had since the first of February. I wasn't worried about the bees until recently. When we put them in on April 8th we filled the hive with combed out frames full pollen and some with honey into the hive. We put on pollen patties and syrup. Last Saturday I saw the bees bringing in large sacs of pollen despite the complete dearth. I was hopeful.

 Now, I am getting worried and I have to remind myself what brought me to this endeavor. It isn't about the honey. It isn't about the honey. It isn't about the honey. My latest mantra, it isn't about the honey.  I came here, to his hobby to temper my hyperactive spirit. To quite and center myself. I wanted a practice of mindfulness. I wanted to become more contemplative and deliberate. I didn't want honey.

After last years 20 gallon crop it is hard not to consider the honey. Here I am today festering in a sort of pathological manner about our honey yield. Will the absence of spring damper the bees activity. Will the Queens get confused and think its winter and stop laying? Will the workers kick out the drones as they do every fall? Will we even get a nectar flow? I am a worry wart. I am grateful for the few things going in our favor, completely drawn out comb so the bees can get right down to it if and when there is a nectar flow. Otherwise I am working hard not to ruminate about the honey and trying to focus on the other merits of beekeeping. After all we have no control over the weather or the outcome.

To that end, the other merits of beekeeping,  we are trying desperately to rescue The Turquoise Bee from an ill fated demise. Today we headed into the bee yard blanketed in another foot or so of snow with a new Queen in hand to attempt a slow release. Bees are particular and they must adjust to and accept a new Queen. When our packages come a caged Queen has been traveling with them for 2 to 7 days. The workers have accepted her pheromone and she is ready to be released in the hive immediately. In our current situation we have to do what is called a slow release of a new Queen, placing the new Queen in her cage in the hive for a few days for the workers to accept her before she is released. If we just let her loose the workers would probably kill her.

We put on our shit kicker boots, lit the smoker and made our way to the hives though deep snow. You can see in the picture above just how much snow we had, now covering the hive covers and entrances. It was probably a good thing we went down to clear the entrances of snow so the bees can get out.

If it had been warmer I would have studied the bees in The Turquoise Bee before placing the Queen cage in the hive, reexamining to see if I could see workers laying. I am completely obsessed with this possibility as I am certain I saw workers laying on Tuesday. If that is the case our efforts may go to waste.

 We opened the hive and honestly there seems to be a good population of bees even though they have not reproduced at all. The bees were in the center of the hive as I would expect. The bees cluster in a ball in the middle of the hive when it is cold, covering any brood to keep it warm. If brood freezes the hive will parish. I had completely forgotten we had moved a frame of brood from Patrick's Pollinator over to the Turquoise Bee. When I went to pull out a frame to make room for the caged Queen I had a moment of panic when I saw a frame full of brood, thinking we had made a huge mistake in removing a healthy Queen. It was a fleeting moment of panic and swearing but I quickly remembered the borrowed brood. Paula pried the cork out of the Queen cage with a nail exposing the candy cork and I put a little water on top of the candy to start softening it for the bees. We placed the  Queen cage snugly between two frames in the middle of the hive, positioning her just below the top of the frame, actually pushing her into the comb candy cork up with the screen facing out so the bees can attend to and feed the Queen until they release her. It will take a few days for the bees to eat through the candy cork and release the Queen. We are getting another package of bees on Saturday so when we go down to put them into Royal Ruckus we will check to see how the release is going. Hopefully by then they will have released her, if not we will probably open the screen ourselves and release her.

We have never been in a snow covered bee yard so we took some time to just take in the sight, clear the hives of snow and peek in the other two just to see a little activity. It was too cold for the bees to be out. Once we finished Paula emptied the smoker into the snow and we enjoyed a little "campfire".

Paula shot a video of the caged Queen placement but be warned, when I first see all the brood in The Turquoise Bee I unleash a loud "fuck". I like to think I have a better vocabulary but fell short in this situation. So, if you are offended by swearing skip the video. The narrative is lacking in this particular video and we could have done a better job describing exactly what we were doing. We are still getting our juju on with these little snippets so bear with us. 

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