Report from the 47th parallel

After the recent cold snap, which lasted about two weeks, I checked my hives with trepidation. I’ve been beekeeping long enough that I shouldn’t be anxious, right? Wrong. I was nervous as a cat, wondering how many colonies I lost.

The day before the cold weather was due, I took the unusual precaution of giving sugar to all my colonies—just in case. I decided on sugar supplement because of the lingering warm weather that kept my bees foraging for pollen until late November. After all, there’s nothing like flying bees to burn through winter stores, so I decided to feed. Hive by hive, I added a tray of sugar and a Varroa drawer under the screened bottoms.

Two colonies were worrisome. One, a huge triple-deep colony, was already at the top of the hive, so I figured it could be out of food. The other was a summer swarm, about grapefruit size, in the lower left corner of a double medium hive—too small for so much cold.

During the next two weeks—which some people say was the longest continuous period of freezing weather we’ve had in twenty years—I didn’t go near my hives. Out of sight, out of mind. Sort of.

Then, when time came to count my losses, I tried to be philosophical. Instead, this is what I found:

  • The grapefruit was still there, humming in a very un-grapefruit-like way.
  • The large colony near the top exploded out of the hive when I popped the lid. One bee got under my coat and tattooed my stomach. Another autographed my wrist. The sugar was about ten percent gone.
  • All the other colonies were hunkered down inside their hives, purring contentedly.
  • Relief washed over me . . . no losses so far. What surprised me, though, is that except for the one hive, the sugar was untouched, which means the honey stores are holding out.

    Now I am counting down to the winter solstice—just three more days of diminishing daylight. You are right, I talk about the solstice a lot, but up here on the 47th parallel, you really notice the interminable darkness. On rainy days—which are most—daylight is scarce and no snow reflects the paltry light. The world is a cave.

    So today I’m baking Christmas cookies, trying to set up a new computer (freaking over Windows 8.1), and thinking about bug portraiture. I’m also thinking (gratefully) about my many readers and wishing you, your families, and your insects all the best this holiday season.

    Peace on Earth,


nick holmes

Am I the only one who wants to know how good the cookies turned out?

51st parallel (51.7, 0.0E roughly)



Yummy. Wow, so many bees (and people) live in the north country. I haven’t heard a peep from down under though, where they are enjoying the longest day of the year.

David Williams

Happy first day of winter ! Shortest day of the year. My birthday. I remember hearing the old timers say, ” As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen”. I live on the 35th parallel so my winter days are not as short as yours.
Thank You for all the hard work you put into your web-site.


And thank you, Dave, for reading. It takes two sides to make it work. Happy solstice!

David R

So here on the east coast of our great nation it is 12:11 the official beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere…..I have never noted it before but in my many trips around Ol Sol….Happy Winter Rusty


Thank you, David! Same to you.


Rusty – Happy Holidays!

Its 68 Degrees in NJ. We have 22D maybe last week. Had same emotions as you as I saw the 2 colonies survived and they are bzzzzzing out today.

I had a wierd question…trying to craft the ‘moisture trap’ you had developed. I am thinking about if I used a typical top feeder…cover the bottom with a cloth/muslin and stuff it with wood-chips. Would that work you think? Lazzines is the mother of all inventions : ). Just wondering if you think this should work in principle.

Thanks again.




I don’t know what you mean by “typical top feeder.” Do you mean a feeder rim? Most top feeders have solid bottoms, which wouldn’t work.

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