This morning, after a week of advising everyone else to check on their bees, I decided I’d better do the same. I figured there would be no excuse if everything went wrong. I couldn’t say no one told me.
So I made some sugar trays just in case and starting doing the rounds. The top-bar hive was first and it seemed normal except lots of bees flew out when I opened it up. This surprised me, so I looked at the thermometer. Hmm. Forty degrees F and raining.
Now forty isn’t freezing but it’s not exactly balmy, either. I gave them some sugar and proceeded up the hill. When I got about ten feet from the first Langstroth I heard a sound that reminded me of a generator in the distance. I thought about it for a moment and decided it was a generator in the distance because this is January, and in January I have to lean close to the hives and tap to hear anything at all.
But the closer I went, the confused-er I became. I have never heard bees make that kind of racket at this time of year. The entire hive seemed to vibrate and a vast number of dead bees littered the landing board that I had cleared only two days ago. I removed the lid and figured I would lift the edge of the quilt and slide in the sugar tray, just like always.
The instant I lifted the quilt a quarter-inch, they started foaming out like soap bubbles from an overflowing washing machine. I had opened the dike and they spilled forth. They oozed over the top and down the sides. Three stories down bees squeezed out of the hive opening and melted over the landing board. The dog left.
Just under the quilts I keep a three-inch feeder rim just in case I need room for feed or pollen patties or grease patties . . . whatever. This feeder space was absolutely full of bees end to end, side to side, and top to bottom.
I replaced the quilt without putting in the sugar tray because I needed a moment to think. This maneuver immediately squeezed about fifty bees, so I opened it up again only to have all the spilling, oozing, and flowing start all over again. Ultimately, I tried to slide the sugar tray under them, but there were so many bees in there it sort of floated like a rowboat on a lake while the bees moved around under it.
All this was just the beginning: every subsequent hive was exactly the same and, honestly, I don’t understand. In previous years, my triple deeps have done the best which is why they are all triples this year. They had tons of honey going into winter and I didn’t think I would need to feed. But like many other parts of the country, we’ve had a warmish winter and the bees are burning through their stores in record time.
Still, how will I keep these huge colonies fed until spring? It is so early in the year that I will need a dump truck full of sugar to keep them going. What I really need is a strategy . . .