I inherited the hives at SPARK from another beekeeper whom I had never met before the day he handed them over. He had never treated these bees (Hooray!) and they were thriving and had been for several years. I definitely wanted them to live. Gosh, what if I took over and the first thing that happened was that they died?
So I felt really scared about interfering. You'll remember the hives both had queen excluders on them when I first visited and opened the hives:
This one had a comb of honey that the bees had placed where the previous beekeeper had taken a frame of honey and had not replaced it.
Well, winter began and the hives were already compact at SPARK and I didn't need to feed the bees because both boxes had at least one full super of honey on them. So I left them for the winter........and NEVER TOOK OFF THE QUEEN EXCLUDER. (please don't tell anyone - I'm a Master Beekeeper and really should know better)
For new beekeepers: During the winter, the bees cluster around the honey. This allows them to stay warm and to have a food source that doesn't require their moving to a different box. The bees have a hard time moving if the temperature is below 50. So a well-managed hive over the winter would include removing the queen excluder to allow the cluster to gather around the honey in the super.
Truthfully, bees move honey all the time. And bees are highly motivated to survive the winter. So smart bees, and these SPARK bees must be, move honey all the time. So to keep fed and warm and to keep the queen with the cluster, the bees would have brought the honey to her. On warmer days in the fall and winter, they moved the honey to be near the cluster.
Because, lo and behold, I arrived at the rooftop garden at SPARK on a warmish day on the last week of January to find bees flying in and out of both hives....despite my bad beekeeping.
Look at all the pollen coming in! Good sign that the queen is laying and building up for spring.
You can see the queen excluder on each hive between the second and third box. WHEW. I really dodged a bullet.