George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

How do you know your bees are alive? Do they have enough food? Is the queen laying brood? Will there be enough foraging age bees present in the May nectar flow? Will there be enough nurse bees present in late March and early April to feed all these future forager bees?

“But George, it is SUPER BOWL Sunday and it snowing hard outside on top of the 8″ we got on Tuesday! How can I inspect bees when it is freezing and there is 10″ of snow on top of the telescoping cover of the hive?”

Are you one of those beeHAVERS that don’t know that most Northern hobbyists and even some commercial beekeepers keep their bees outside just like yours in the cold and snowy Montana, Minnesota, Maine, CANADA, and even ALASKA? They might have snow on top of their hives continuously and below freezing for several months, rather then just a few days! Just being COLD, even at 20 or 30 BELOW zero does NOT kill bees, and they can even raise the cluster temperature to 95 degrees so the queen starts laying eggs in these cold outside temperatures! They don’t need a furnace like your house to warm the whole hive. They just need FOOD that they can get to, and they will make their own warmth after eating; and after warming the bee cluster, they will feed the queen and prepare cells for the queen to lay brood. All you have to do is make sure that they are NOT low on food supplies, and this is easy!

Surely, NOT for a beginner or novice, but veteran beekeepers can get a fair estimate of food supplies by “hefting” a hive to see about how heavy it is. Then, brush the snow off the top and remove it, and look into the inner cover hole. If the bees are right up in inner cover hole, start to worry, because this might indicate that they are VERY short on food supplies and need immediate help. If it is snowing, windy and cold, you should not remove the inner cover and check any further. Just quickly prepare a gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup in a jar and invert it over the inner cover hole, so the bees can get a very quick feed. During the next 15 days, one of those days might get to 50 degrees in the sunny afternoon, take from work, and inspect your bees. That would be a good time to move outer frames of honey over to the center frames position so the bees again have plenty of food ABOVE them. It is also a good time to REVERSE your brood chambers (see George’s PINK PAGES about reversing).

I want you to think strongly about some things that I continually mention: You can NOT tell if your bees are alive by looking at the bees flying in and out on a warm day, because your bees may be DEAD and the bees you see are robber bees robbing out the honey in the colony. You MUST go INSIDE your colony to inspect it! Remember that your colony can NOT make a good honey crop unless it has a lot of foraging age bees ready to go out and forage when the nectar flow is in progress; and that means the egg that produces this forager must have been laid by the queen 40 days before it can go foraging! Also, remember that there must be a lot of NURSE bees present to WARM the colony and to feed the brood that will later become forager bees; and hence feeding 1:1 sugar syrup back in February and March to stimulate queen laying may be desirable.


Good Luck!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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