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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a Master Beekeeper! Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.


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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Freezing the Bees

We are having the coldest Atlanta January.  It was 6 degrees F on Tuesday morning - so cold that they closed the public schools for fear that children waiting for early morning school buses might freeze to death!

The average low this week in Atlanta is typically around 32.  But yesterday the high was 28.  Tonight the low will be 28 after an afternoon in the 40s.

Why does this matter?  All of us beekeepers are worried about our bees.  At the bee club meeting tonight an old experienced beekeeper said he actually opened the tops of his hives yesterday (remember the 28 degree high???) to see if his bees were alive.

I'm settling for crossing my fingers and hoping that they live.  I keep think of beekeepers like Michael Bush in Nebraska or Kirk Webster in Vermont.  Temperatures there are so cold AND the beehives are covered with snow.

And yet if they have strong hives, they make it through the winter.

I don't want to open my hives to see if the bees are alive or dead.

What will I do in either case?  I cannot make a difference at this point.

But if I do open the hives, what have I done to serve my useless curiosity?

I've broken the propolis seal they have made to protect themselves - chinks and daubing were the processes used in the log cabins of old to keep out the weather.  The bees use that all important propolis.

If my hives die in this bitter cold, I'll replace them in the spring either with nucs that I have ordered or with swarms, but I don't want to increase their risk by opening them in this bitter cold.

13 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:52 PM

    I think you did absolutely the right thing, especially since you said this was a bad year for honey. They might have already used up their stocks heating up the hive! But let us know, come spring, how they do.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm very new to bees. It went down to 8*F here.
    I put my ear to the top & gave it a gentle tap a couple of times. They made a quiet short buzz which at least told me they were still alive. I lifted the lid and gave them some powdered sugar when there was a warmer day (47*F) because the hive seemed very light. I would never lift the inner lid. We heat with wood 24-7. I think we had too many down drafts from our chimney from a long inversion, and they ate too much honey when they got some of the smoke. Have you ever heard of that happening? I checked again on another warm day & they were eating the sugar. They were also flying in & out of the hive defecating I presume..

    ReplyDelete
  3. GOODMORNIG FROM GREECE, JUANARY 2001 THE TEMPERATURE WAS -13 F TO +14 F FOR ALMOST TWO WEEKS THE BEES HAVE GOT NO PROBLEM AND THIS YEAR WAS ON OFTHE BEST (HONEY, BEE;S POPULATION). ANTHIMOS

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  4. I hope my bees had enough stores to make it. It's usually starvation that kills the bees, not the cold. If they need to eat too much to keep the cluster warm, and they run out of food, then we're "up the creek" as they say in Mississippi.

    ReplyDelete
  5. DC is expected to be in the 50s and 60s over the next few days, so I'll have my feeder ready. On other warm days, a few stalwart gals have been out and about.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Linda, you have some options here. We find up here in the Pacific NW that it is more being wet than cold that kills the bees. So if you can pop something under the inner cover, even a towel, to absorb moisture and make sure that condensation from the cluster does not drip down off the cold inner cover onto the cluster, that will help. You can also pop in some feed ie. via the "Mountain Camp" method (just spreading dampened sugar on paper on the top bars). There are many methods out there to feed solid food when it is cold. You can do that feed now or when the weather gets a bit warmer...I would not worry about popping the top off just to put some feed on. We do it here with little ill effect, and it can make all the difference to a cluster running out of feed, which they can do during the spring buildup.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Just as an aside: I bought some small beeyards last fall and some of the hives had been stripped of their honey supers without perhaps realizing that those colonies had not put stores into the brood nest. Different bees seem to choose different winter storage approaches! So those hives, who did not plan on giving ALL their honey to the beekeeper, are light and are being fed. I would not have left them so light myself, I would have put a honey-full shallow over the single deep. I also find the bees break cluster inside the hive well before it is warm enough to take cleansing or foraging flights. That means on days when it is around 42-44F, they are in there moving around pretty freely. And I suspect they can move above the cluster when it is much colder, if they are really hungry. They try hard to get through the winter!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hello from North Carolina! we currently have about 15 hives,, and were at about negative 20 with the wind!!!! we too, were extremely worried..
    My husband reassured me that its moisture that kills them, that just the cold..
    It was 43 the next day and all of our hives seemed active..
    Hoping the same happened for you!!!!!
    this is home stretch, and the time of year, where we all worry!
    take care!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Hi from Wisconsin, we have 3 hives, we just had 2 weeks of -15 -20 days without wind chill, we also had no honey last year, was feeding white sugar already in November, we do have a tarp up guarding them from a north/west field wind, one of the hives was a squarm we caught last year, we will be VERY surprised if they make it

    ReplyDelete
  10. Bees flying today - whew - and at Stonehurst as well. Relieved - see next post.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous6:42 PM

    just opened up my hive here in Maryland. It was a warm day close to 70. I wasn't seeing any activity. Found all the bees dead. Plenty of honey everywhere. Three weeks ago I saw them flying about collecting pollen. What happened? Did they freeze for sure? It did get extremely cold for a week, single digits.....Interesting...didn't see any brood. Was told that the queen stops laying when winter approaches, so maybe no brood would be normal.

    Let me know what you think. Ordering more packages. Can I clean up the existing hive any dump new package into it?

    JV

    ReplyDelete
  12. The bees can't move to the honey when it's extremely cold. Often you'll find the cluster - all of the bees head down in the cells and all of them dead - inches from the honey or with honey on the next frame. In Georgia in March, we do see brood in the hives at this time of year - lots of it. The queen stops laying when winter really gets here but at the winter solstice (the old beekeepers say) she begins gradually again and builds up over time so that when spring is really here, the hives are strong and ready to collect nectar and swarm. So that you found no brood probably means the hive was short of stores and the bees gave up hope - so the queen wasn't perpetuating a bunch of brood that they couldn't keep warm. Hope that helps. Was the cluster small? (probably). If there were tons of dead bees, you could send the bees off to a lab to see if disease killed them, but more likely it's what I described.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If they starved, there's no reason not to use the hive again and to harvest the honey to feed your new packages when they arrive. If the cause of death was something else, unless it was AFB, you can use the hive again, but I'd be a little cautious about the honey for feeding the bees.

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