Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Closing up shop.....

Well, the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the temps here in mid-Michigan are slowly slipping away, fleeing south with the geese. The bees are all buttoned up, the surplus honey has been extracted, and there's nothing to do till spring time. I'm going to cover very briefly what I did before closing the honey house for the long, cold winter.

First things first, I need to catch up on old news. The Centennial hive has been moved from Midland to Bay County, and is beside the Yale hive. I opened it up and was unpleasantly surprised by how little they had produced, and how low their numbers were. I was, and continue to be sceptical about their chances.

A week or so later, I got a call about a downed tree that had a hive in it. I started a cut-out, but soon realized there was no comb in the tree. Alas, when the tree fell, it destroyed their comb, so they moved into a new gap. I pissed them off pretty bad when I ran a chain-saw into their new home! At any rate, I cut the hole wide open, and left an empty box with old wax-covered frames in it. They decided to move on in, and a few days later, I loaded it up and brought it to Bay County. We combined the two hives (Centennial and the cut-out) in the hopes that the two will be able to over-winter better. More on the cut-out and combine later.

So, when it came time to harvest, I got some Bee-Quick and made a fume board. The idea is that you spray the bee-quick on a warm fume board. The stuff stinks to high heaven, and the bees don't like it. SO I put the fume board on top of the honey supers, in place of the top cover. The bees should have cleared out of the supers after about 5 minutes. They didn't. So I had to brush, blow, flick, and shake them off. They don't like that much either. Long story short, I got two supers cleared out, and took them home to extract. More on that later, too. Don't worry, I have all winter.

After extraction, the hive is considerably smaller. Now, there are a couple different schools of thought on how to over-winter. There's the "Spray and Pray" group, that believes in medicating, inspecting, requeening, blah blah blah blahblahblah.... Then there's the "Do nothing, they've been doing this for millions of years" group. I fall into the latter. So, my over-wintering preps are to put an entrance reducer on the front, to help them keep the hive warm, and (maybe) wrapping the hive in insulation, if it gets really cold. Also, I tilted the cover slightly. This is because the bees will create condensation on the inside of the cover. The condensation will get very cold (nearly freezing) and if it drips on the cluster, the bees will freeze. By tilting it, the condensation will run to the wall and run down the outer wall, not dripping on the bees.

I've been asked if bees hibernate. The short answer is no. They don't even sleep... ever. However, they do become dormant, as a hive. The individuals will be busy, but the hive will not be doing anything other than eating occasionally and climate control. The drones are all kicked out to die off, or are killed in the process. They are only there for mating, drain resources, and can be easily replaced. The queen moves to the middle of the hive, close to the top. The workers cluster into a ball around her. They then (listen closely, this is cool) disconnect their wings from the muscles that move them, thereby letting the bees work their muscles and create body heat without creating a breeze! Pretty amazing, huh? The cluster will maintain a constant temperature of about 90 degrees farenheit, no matter how cold it gets outside the hive. When the temps dive, the bees just tighten up the cluster. When they come up a little, the cluster loosens up, letting more air move around them.

Sorry for the delay in getting this one out. I'll definitely be posting another soon, covering the extraction. I'll also try to get one in about the cut-out. Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions.

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