Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Second Chance for the Bee Colony

In an earlier post, we mentioned that our bee colony was not faring well as we entered the winter months. The bees were clearly dying off and the hive was showing some obvious warning signs.

One of the main issues we face when trying to get bees to survive over the winter is heat, which we attempt to combat by insulating the colony over the cold nights. But the other big issue we encounter in wintertime is a lack of food. Flowers just aren’t as plentiful, and bees rarely even attempt to fly out into the cold.

If a hive has been very productive during the summer months, it stores honey for wintertime food. Our small colony has run through its honey supply far too early in the winter. We have attempted a variety of supplemental feeding options in the past. We have a small feeder outside the hive with flavored sugar water to simulate nectar. We’ve also put this nectar substitute inside, next to the hive, so the bees didn’t have to venture quite as far for their food. Neither food source was exciting enough to draw in the bees.

Now we needed some new ideas.

Thinking out-of-the box, Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore suggested cotton candy as a possible food source. The bees seemed interested in the ball of wadded up sugar and did begin feeding from it. But soon it became clear that even that wasn’t enough to keep the hive going. It was time to call the beekeepers.

In the early morning hours our beekeepers, Corky Luster and his assistant Dave, came in to replace empty frames with new ones that were full of honey. Our bees seemed to be shunning one side of the hive, so it was easy to remove the empty side without disturbing the bees. These frames came from another hive that stored their honey well, but for some reason, didn’t survive. While the old frame consisted of empty cells, this new one was covered with capped honey and was all ready to go.

As soon as the new frames were placed in the hive, the bees were immediately drawn to it. At first, it was just a small number that happened upon it. After those bees finished feeding, we noticed them doing their famous waggle-dance among the rest of the colony. Soon, almost half of the hive was on the new frames eagerly collecting the honey.

The bees weren’t only eating the honey either. Within a few hours we noticed that the bees were actually filling cells from the older frame with honey and capping them off. It is common in the bee world to rob honey from another hive when food is scarce. Our bees might think that this new food source is actually another hive that they have discovered. The important part is that they’re eating it.

Because this is a new strategy, we don’t know how long this honey will last. It does seem like the bees prefer honey to nectar for wintertime food. While we can never guarantee any long-term solution, this new honey has given us new hope for our colony this winter.

1 comment:

  1. The part of this that amazed me is we had the hive open in the exhibit space, and not a single bee got out or was harmed. They were so focused on getting to the honey. The hive population is very small - through sheer attrition, we stand to lose the colony by spring. But seeing them take to their new food with such enthusiasm has renewed my hope, at least a little