Did the bees survive winter?
As you can probably tell, we do a variety of different projects at the Ranch from timbering and active forest management to maple syrup production, gardening, hobby farming with goats and chickens, and the list goes on! So, it should come as a surprise that we've *finally* ventured out to beekeeping! The plan was to start Spring 2021 with one or two hives and see what it took to keep an apiary going.
Through a friend, we were fortunate enough to obtain 5 topbar hive bodies (and their respective bars), multiple swarm traps, and other beekeeping supplies in October as well as an active hive from a swarm he captured in June 2020. To say we were excited would be an understatement. Early one October morning, we brought the hive home and continued to research, and obtain a mentor from a local bee club, so we could hopefully successfully overwinter the hive. Wintertime is a difficult time to keep bees alive, not just because of the low temperatures, but excess moisture build up in the hive, lack of food, lack of preventative treatment, etc can all play a role in the colony's demise. We were going to try our best and learn what we could, but let's face it, we had no idea what we were doing and this was our first hands on experience with bees, so the chances weren't looking good. Even experienced beekeepers lose hives and sometimes at an alarming rate!
The bees had already sealed themselves in for Winter by the time we acquired them, so cracking open the hive and treating for mites or trying to feed was out of the question. We added some foam insulation between the topbars and the lid and later in the winter, we added some reflective insulation around the outside of the entire hive during our few weeks of extremely cold weather. It was months before we'd find out if we were successful. At the end of February, the weather finally warmed up enough that if the bees were alive, they'd come out of the hive for their cleansing flights (aka finally able to poop outside).
As I approached the hive, I saw activity...lots of bees exiting and doing their bee thing! I was ecstatic! I watched for a while and then decided to leave them alone and contact my mentor, "The bees made it. Ummm...now what?" She advised that the early Spring, when the weather is warm enough for them to fly (about 50F), but very few plants are flowering is a dangerous time when I can still lose them. It was time to supplement their feed with pollen. Pollen is higher in protein and will stimulate the hive to start building combs and the queen to start laying eggs. She instructed me on how to build a feeder and the type of pollen to purchase and I set forth to help my ladies make it through the next month (or so) of lean times. Since the temperatures were warming up, I also removed the outside insulation to help the hive not build up too much moisture and allow them to air out during a nice day that reached into the mid-60F.
I'm not sure that we're out of the woods yet, but I'm hoping that the surviving gals (yes, we did have some mortality, but that's to be expected) will be strong enough to successfully rebuild their colony. At this point, only time will tell.