Memphis Backyard Farmer

December Hive Update
January 3, 2012, 4:38 am
Filed under: Bee Keeping | Tags: , ,

To say it’s been a weird winter in Memphis so far would be an understatement. Last week we had consistent days over 60 degrees, and the week before was solid 50’s. Today it’s 43 degrees, and we’re expecting it to dip down in the 20’s.

Since the temp was so high on Friday (65), I decided it was a great excuse to go visit all the hives. Bees will become active when the temp is in the 50’s, and my bees in the back yard were licking up some combs (I extracted some honey the week before). I don’t like to go into the hives in winter unless I have a good warm day. If you open a hive on a cold day, you risk breaking the cluster – where heat is generated – and risk killing a large number of bees. So Friday was perfect.

What I found was mostly good news. I left plenty of honey stores on the hives this fall and, surprisingly, they were still quite full. I say surprisingly since the bees have been so active. It’s a novelty to see bees out flying in the winter. It’s nice, and I enjoy watching them. But the truth is, it’s also dangerous. The bees are out looking for forage, and at this time of year there’s little to offer (although my leatherleaf mahonias are providing a little food due to the unseasonably warm temps). And since there isn’t much to eat, they’ll turn to the one food source they have – honey stores. So I really thought that they would have eaten more of their summer surplus. I brought sugar syrup along to supplement, but only had to feed one hive.

Which leads me to another subject. I’ve said before that I like to use Russian bees. They don’t produce as much as Italians, but they overwinter well, and because they’re hygenic, they have proven – in my apiaries – to resist mite infestation. And true to form, these hives are strong. I also started a hive using a queen from Wolf Creek Apiaries this year. Their bees are small-cell bees, and are “mutts” – crosses of feral bees from middle-Tennessee, Russians, Italians, and Carnolians. This hive was strong as well. My Italians, however, were performing as expected: poorly. Honestly, I never thought they’d make it through last winter, but they did. I’d take bets that they won’t make it through this winter. The cluster was extremely small, with little honey left, and they had a smell that’s characteristic of a sick hive. I fed them and pulled the empty honey super off the hive to allow less room for the invasion of critters, and to give the bees less area to heat. But I’m betting that by the time I check a gain in January these gals will be dead. I’m a little sad – they were good honey producers this summer. But I’ve never had good luck with Italians.

That’s this month’s hive update. How are YOUR hives faring so far?

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