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Monday, June 7, 2010

Bees In Wetsuits

This spring has been more than a little challenging for bees, especially new colonies.  Cool wet weather complicates matters greatly for new colonies, primarily because they have no honey stores of their own from the previous season upon which to rely for food when foraging isn't possible.  Without stores, bees have to get out and fly in order to eat and rain makes that hard.

Watching my bees this spring, I've learned a thing or two from them about opportunity.  Rain chases me indoors and dampens my spirits more than I'd like to admit.  When the drops stop falling, I look suspiciously at the sky and have to shake off my own sense of imprisonment before I venture out of doors.  Bees, meanwhile, practically leap out of the hive when then get half a chance.  They're off (on beelines) seeking whatever goodness they can find in whatever small sliver time has been granted. 

Seemingly, staying indoors is no easy solution for me or perhaps for bees either.  Cool weather challenges new colonies to heat their hive space sufficiently to raise brood and to make comb.  Bees need hive temperatures to stay in the 90's and are able to do so mainly using body friction/kinetic energy.  Small colonies have a tough time heating lots of open space.  Making comb is difficult in cold weather simply because wax is harder to manipulate.

Fortunately, all of our new co-op colonies seem to be doing very well despite our soggy weather.  Some of us have been feeding new colonies with sugar water.  Some not.  Both fed and not-fed hives seem to be thriving.  Most of the colonies have now grown into a second super and may even require a third this year once weather warms and the blackberry flower season fully opens.

The damp weather will decrease honey production this year, making it almost a certainty that our first year hives should be left with all of the honey they produce in order to safeguard the bees survival over the winter.

Swarms also seem to have been somewhat suppressed by the recent weather.  Personally, I've only seen two swarms this season, less than I'd expect.  We may see a run of late season swarms as weather warms up, but in most years the bulk of the swarms would have occurred already.

Yesterday I took my cues from my colonies, ceding outdoor territory only grudgingly during morning showers and running right back out when they stopped.  As I moved gravel and soil and raced to pack a week of chores into a day, I caught glimpses over my shoulder of my bees besting me at every turn.  Workers clustered at the hive door seemed impatient with drones hanging about on no particular mission.  They pushed their  lumbering and indolent brothers aside and bustled past back into the hive, time and again, with huge bags of pollen on their legs, right up until dark.

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