Spring in February

It was warm and sunny today. This is certainly not any kind of February I remember—usually it’s one of our coldest months and one of the wettest. My little patch of lamb’s ears, which I bought specifically for wool carder bees, was loaded with honey bees—several dozen at a time. They were eagerly lapping up the water that was caught on the surface of the woolly leaves. Other honey bees examined the hose bibb, but it was dry.

The south wall of the house, exposed directly to the sun, was covered with honey bees. They would land and remain motionless for several minutes, taking in the warmth. Right in the middle of maybe seventy honey bees was a big fat bumble bee queen doing the same.

The bees were collecting pollen in two creamy shades of yellow, but here is something to remember: In most areas, pollen is available long before nectar. Many plants that are wind-pollinated produce large quantities of early pollen, but the plants with showy flowers and lots of nectar usually bloom later.

So don’t sigh with relief quite yet. Make sure your bees are supplied with enough honey or sugar to get them into the spring. Most colonies that die of starvation do it in late spring when stores are low, populations are getting larger, the weather is unpredictable, and the nectar-producing plants haven’t yet bloomed. It’s very easy to lose your bees just when you think you’ve made it.



Honey bee collecting water from lamb’s ear. © Rusty Burlew.


The water gets trapped on the hairy surface of the leaves. © Rusty Burlew.


A honey bee looks for water on a dry hose bibb. © Rusty Burlew.


This bumble bee queen was sunning herself on the side of the house. © Rusty Burlew.



  • This week (tomorrow and Thursday) is probably going to be our coldest of the winter. But after this week, things appear to be forecasting upward.

    Unfortunately right when I thought I was going to overwinter both hives, one collapsed on me. The other is doing quite well.

  • Curious about the bee on the hose bib. Do you think it’s a survivor from last season and “remembers” the previous source of water, or a new bee “smelling/sensing” the nearness of water?

    • Mary,

      My guess is the bee senses the presence of water. The hose bibb was used in the days before the photo was taken, so I’m sure the area smells like water.

  • Arrrrrg…..I have been out crawling around on the damp cool ground trying to take close ups of bees feeding and I have nothing, nothing that compares to these wonderful pictures. But give me time, I will learn how to do it. Thank you for always being out in front setting a standard of excellence worthy of emulating.

  • I have violets blooming all over making my honey bees very happy. Saw a daffodil today. I don’t mind not having a winter this year but I am concerned we will have a cold snap just as my fruit trees are blooming… that’s why I plant lots of variety.. best of luck to you all!

  • Really nice shots of the bees on the lamb’s ear. It’s hard not to be jealous of bee posts this time of year. It’s 5 below right now where I am in Minnesota.

  • Worry, worry.

    Our two colonies looked good two days ago. Hive one is our golden girls. Eyetalians (like to say that). Good colony growth last year. Not much excess honey for harvest, but a very active, healthy appearing bunch. Very calm. Two deeps and one western super. Took a quart of honey off the top super last fall just to do it

    Hive two is a feral bunch picked up in June, last year. Limped along all summer and fall. Dark bees, seem much smaller than the others. Seem to be a calm bunch but a very small group. Hive body consists of two western supers only and I have never seen them high in the second super.

    As of February 17th, they both live. Have worried about hive two especially, since they moved in. Very few bees, fed only in January when I gave them some sugar. LOTS of dead bees today in front of the hive. They seem lethargic. A lot of bees hanging out, almost bearding. Lots of dead bees in a hive with few bees to start with?

    Worry, worry.

    60 degrees today and more of the same to come, they say.
    That’s our Bee Life. Any comments? Anyone?

    • Renaldo,

      Maybe you worry too much? Sounds like they’re doing fine. Some genetic strains run smaller winter colonies than others. The small ones seem to keep warm and they certainly use less food. I’ve been watching a baseball-size cluster all winter and it’s finally starting to get a little bigger. It amazes me.

  • I hefted my Warre’ hive this week, and it is thankfully still very heavy. I started up my “summer” fountain, and all the girls are coming to the watering hole for drinks. Nothing but a few violets blooming, but bees are bringing in lots of “dirty white” pollen, pale yellow, and tan. I, too, worry about a late, hard frost.

  • Oh my gosh this post might kill me. The snow is over the top of my hive, I’m digging them out (literally shoveling snow up and over the eight foot fence behind the hives because THAT IS HOW DEEP THE SNOW IS), and we’re scheduled for 5-8 more inches tonight. I’m in pain.

    So how can you tell its a bumble bee queen- because they’re the only ones alive at this point?

    • Joanna,

      From this end, it sounds wonderful. I love snow and I miss it. (Of course, it is easy to say that when you’re not the one shoveling!)

      Yes, the mated queen bumble bee is the only one to survive the winter. She comes out very early in the spring to look for nesting sites. You can also tell by her size. I realize my photo offers no size comparisons, but this is one huge bug. Get clunked on the head by her and you might get a concussion. Okay, slight exaggeration, but she’s probably twice as big (or more) than her worker offspring will be.

  • It was a balmy, calm-ish day (about 53 F. in NW WA) today, so I took my remaining hive apart and did a pretty thorough but *quick* inspection. The main things I noticed are as follows:

    • The lower deep is almost empty except for bees in transition, heading in and out of the opening. A little capped honey here and there, and otherwise it’s only empty cells. I saw also that a few outer frames remain undrawn from the pas season (it was a new hive). My assumption is that this is normal, since the bees would tend to be towards the top of the hive where it’s warmer.
    • The upper deep has bees crawling all over it, similar to what one would see in summer… just not as many. There are 3-4 frames of capped honey, some mixed with pollen. The bees were bringing pollen in (we have dandelions here and there, and some flowering plums are fully in bloom around our area). Since the bees are moving about, I assume they will eat the honey in the frames as needed, and that I do not need to provide candy patties or other supplemental food. I assume further they will cluster at night or as the hive cools down, only to break cluster as the next day warms.
    • I did not take it apart enough to look for brood since I see many young bees in the hive. At least they look “fresh” to me, and I see lots of orientation flights when the days warm up. I assume the queen is busy doing her thing and don’t need to disturb her or her brood.
    • The moisture quilt is as dry as a bone, and the hive shows no sign of excess moisture. This seems to be working as designed and my assumption is to consider it a permanent piece, as long as it does not cause undue heat retention in the summer.
    • The bottom screen has a few moldy dead bees that appear to be left over from the past winter. I am not sure if the housekeepers will clean them up or not. Either way, I plan to swap it out with a cleaned bottom board when I put a slatted rack in place (also as a permanent piece). No assumptions here, except that this is a good idea. 🙂

    I appreciate any feedback, especially on my assumptions.

    Thanks so much!


  • I’m lucky in that I have a large yard with lots and lots of dandelions (my landlady sends out a yard crew from time to time but I don’t let them touch the back yard — I take care of it myself, carefully, but I leave the grass fairly long and flowers growing). They’re already blooming all over the place and the bees are eating from them every warm day. I’m not sure they’ll get a lot of nectar from that but I know at least they’re getting some.

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