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Beehive: Keeper suffers devastating losses over harsh winter

By Brett Kent / For the Enterprise

The spring weather has finally arrived, and let me say, not a minute too soon. I don’t mean for the bees’ sake, but rather for my mental health. I was just about to jump off the deck, but what is the sense, I would have just landed in a 10-foot snow drift, with a sore ankle. (Lol)

Anyway, most of our bees died this winter.

We suffered staggering losses, which is really disheartening, considering that approximately 60 percent of the hives were alive in late February. I have been going through the dead hives and found that most of the bees ran out of food.

Remember, the bees eat honey that we leave them, for energy, to keep themselves warm throughout the winter. I think in a normal winter, with normal temperatures, the bees would have had plenty of honey stores.

This winter, with the colder than normal temps, the bees consumed honey at a faster rate, and combined with the winter that started early and would not let go, was just too much for the bees.

So, I come away from this wintering adventure with such a poor outcome, I have been taught a few more important lessons from Mother Nature. The first lesson is that once again, Mother Nature is still running the show. (Brenda is standing here reminding me that she is okay with being second in command.)

Secondly, it tells me that my wintering technique was working, through one of the coldest winters in recent memory. You may ask, what is a good survival rate? My goal is to get 50 percent of the bees to make it through the winter.

If I was able to come out of winter with a 50 percent survival rate, then I would split the hives in the spring and you are back up to 100 percent production.

Looking back to February, when 60 percent of my hives were still alive, if I would have been more attentive I think I could have saved some of the bees. If I had realized that the bees were running out of food, I could have fed them.

The way I set the hives up for the winter, I am able to feed the bees without completely opening up the hive. This is very important, because you don’t want to expose the cluster of bees to the elements in February.

So, you ask, how would you have known the bees were running out of food? The only way to tell is to lift the hive and feel how heavy it is. This is very difficult. My solution to this problem is to start feeding all the surviving bees in early March.

Now, bees cannot consume any sugar water, when temperatures are below 50 degrees. However, bees will consume granulated sugar, or honey, no matter what the temp is. So, I would have had these two options.

I could have fed the bees some granulated sugar, or I could have put some honey in a Ziploc sandwich bag, and then poked a few holes in it, and placed it in the top empty hive box, just under the insulation, which would slowly seep out of the Ziploc bag. This would have allowed the bees to step up through the inspection hole and eat. I hope I’m not getting too detailed here.

I will wrap this up by saying that through this experience, I have probably become a better beekeeper, and I have already taken steps to insure that this will never happen to me again. Being that Brenda said her garage stall space will be unavailable next fall; I have already lined up a new place in Kansas, to take my bees south next winter. I know I said I would never do that again, but spending $5,000 a year for new bees is not in the budget.

For now, my tentative plan for next fall is to take half of my bees south, and winter the other half here. I am convinced that I can overcome the wintering problems, but I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you that came out to the Health and Wellness Expo and said hi. What a great turnout. Also, I would like to thank all of you that came to Guthrie to take part in the advanced beekeeping class put on by the Hubbard County Extension Service.

The new bees will be here in early May, I will let you know when we are up and running. As always, thanks for your interest.