My bees might just make it! This weird, hot-cold “winter” can’t be good for them.
It was warm enough for me a couple days ago to take the lid off and give them a jar of syrup (amazing. In February!), but I was sick with worry. No bees outside, on a warm day. I was pretty sure I was going to find a dead hive when I lifted the lid. Ugh.
But instead, I found a black knot of bees around the empty jar! Yay! And hardly any dampness, or mold in the eke insulation, which indicates moisture. In fact, it was more dry than last year. I gave them a full jar, put the the lid back on, and then the guard bees came shooting out while I was taping them back up. Hey! You’re jostling us!
This winter with its crazy yoyo temperatures has to be hard on them, but they are still humming in there. Hope they can make it. I can’t open and feed them again yet.
I lost the big hive, my original hive, quite suddenly at the end of last summer, and these, the new bees, didn’t have long to get established, and God forbid, they may have been infected with the crisis from the other hive. But so far, they’re ok. I’m tense about it.This is two bees at the upstairs door, walking around on the tarpaper the hive is wrapped with. On warm enough days, a few come out walking around or flying.
The old bees (on their third summer) are not dividing. I added a fifth super in July. It’s not like five full size supers is unheard of, but it’s tall! I thought they were going to split this year, and I’ve had inviting accommodations all set up, should they feel like swarming. They didn’t.
Now they likely aren’t going to, since it’s too late to set up housekeeping and build up honey stores before the winter. So that’s a huge hive. I guess that means they’re happy. They may winter in three supers this year. Next year, they’ll surely split.
It’s tall! I can’t see into the lounge to check on their syrup, I can’t lift the lid, and I can’t see in if I do, without a ladder. And working off a ladder is terribly hard. I had my first taste of it installing the fifth super, and wow, I kind of wish I’d opted for mixing small and full supers. Moving heavy weight very slowly and smoothly to not crush bees, in a bee suit, is quite a workout – I was dripping, and shaking.
I got my first chance to get into the hive. We´ve had a warm, early spring, so I’ve been feeding them, and anxious for the right warm day to come, so I can give them the third super. They´ve been unwrapped since the end of April, but this is the first time I´m going to the bottom of the hive, and the inner lid is coming off.
Phew, a chance to dump/brush all that scrap straw off the inner cover.
Since I´m going right to the bottom of the hive today, I´m wearing my bee suit. They might get testy before I get done (They didn´t. My bees are so laid-back).
The hive´s doing very well. Saw the queen – she´s so huge. Two queen cells, so they´re up to something, but I don´t think division. They might be replacing her, as there was caped brood but no brood less than a week old. I´m leaving that alone. Still, or already, a few solid frames of honey.
It get´s a bit out of hand with all the frames, and spare supers, etc, planning how I´m going to shuffle and redistribute frames.
I´m also happy to get these original plastic frames that the nuc came with up to the top super, so I can take them out this year.
Mostly my bees have been well behaved, only a little bit of bulging honey frames. A couple of burr combs full of honey that I had to break, and honey dripped all over- that keeps them occupied.
It’s time to wrap up the bees for the winter – December 1st or before the snow flies.
This year my hive is much stronger, and larger, and they will be wintering in two supers, plus the Salon.
One 2×8´sheet of rigid styrofoam is perfect for a two-super hive – three 32″ pieces.
Three sides get wrapped with foam, tar paper only on the front, so the black helps them heat up inside on sunny days, maybe enough to go for a cleansing flight. All this is what I learned from my “bee guru” at Bello Uccello. I cut the foam very precise to use the overlap designed into the foam (which means the back piece is custom). Otherwise the corners will leak cold. Then a couple of pieces of Tuck tape to hold it all in place for the tar paper wrap.
The 2″ thick foam sticks out farther than the outer cover/lid, so I also cut a step in the foam to nest the lid into. I’m doing it a little different than last year.
Then the paper:
It wraps flat around the front of the hive, covering the doors and shutting the bees in completely for a few minutes. They can’t love that.
There’s a little artful paper slicing required to make everything fold flat and smooth around the alighting board. Lots of staples on the front – no wrinkles.
Then it’s time to cut out the doors.
Oh! There’s a bee!
The Salon, aka drone cafe – the empty/feeder box above the inner cover (I’ve called it the Salon since they started doing art installations in there) is already filled with straw (to help insulate and absorb moisture), and the bees just finished their second last jar of syrup for the year. Now they will be closed in with their last jar.
I did this thing last year with the lid/outer cover, and it worked quite well so I’m repeating it. One piece of basic “pebble” styrofoam cut exactly to size, jammed into the underside of the lid.
Then a piece of corrugated cut to size as well, so the bees aren’t in direct contact with the styrofoam ever. This gives them an inch of insulation on the ceiling. When I took it apart last spring the cardboard was damp on the edges and I threw it away.
Just after I closed the lid and was doing the final touches on the edges of the tar paper, the bees started buzzing outside in droves.
I thought I’d agitated them, but it may have been that time of the day, or the sunny day had warmed up enough right then to go for a fly, but they were on a group cleansing flight, which I realized when I noticed all the bright yellow poop dots on my hands and sleeves!
This is what I’m doing differently this year. My final step was taking another piece of tar paper over the top of the lid, folding gift corners and taping it down to the sides (instead of tacking the tar paper to the lid). In theory, if I need to get a jar in there in the early spring, I can take off the lid by slitting the tape and tape it back up; it won’t be very disruptive.
Then I put a metal sheet (actually a piece of shelving that happens to be a perfect size) over top of the whole thing and ratchet-strapped it down. The oversize temporary winter lid puts an extra 8-10″ of eave over the front doors.
Only two days late- that’s as close to on time as I get around here. Seconds after finishing, while I was carrying tools away, snowflakes started to fall.
Last year I was so worried about them. They’d re-queened three times in the year, their first, I got them late, and they didn’t have good numbers. But they made it through.
This year I’m a little more confident. It’s interesting to me, all the local former beekeepers (no one nearby currently has hives) never wintered their bees! They bought nucs in the spring and they died in the winter. Sounds expensive.
I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy. ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG! The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds. Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland. I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.
First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.
Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.
Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed. The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.
Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen. A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in. Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused. The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.
The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop. The reason: one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop. He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some. Life’s hectic for Snowball. He’s got a lot of responsibilities.
They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH. These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.
And then, miracles! they all just … got along. The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been. Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes. They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them. The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off. Staredowns, with their necks stuck out. I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.
The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen. YES. I’m so glad it’s working!
Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.
They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things. Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.
Now there are five. One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days. Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play. In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep. All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still. I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.
They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long. So funny/cute! They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff. They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day. Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.
I “cleaned it up” some in the GH. Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.
All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them. Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster. They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers, dig, and dirt bathe. It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too. They always like standing up on things.
There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to. It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp. My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.
At first the layers weren’t sure. They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out? They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in. Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me. This was a bad idea! All the food’s in there!
Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster. He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle. I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight. Because the Silkie would lose. This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.
I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow! The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings. I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.
All the birds love salad. I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful. I’m going to do it on purpose next year. The chickens love a good salad. I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony. Makes it quiet real quick.
The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond. That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground. It works about as well for the chick, but they try.
I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.
The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped. The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel. I hope he gets pecked. Chipmunks are gone.
Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend. Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs! The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.
In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers. They know. They can hear, and they grumble! The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces! Every morning. He knows she’s in there.