If you've heard this expression, supposedly attributed to Woody Allen, you know he was never a beekeeper.
Personally, I lost 6 out of 8 hives. Many of my beekeeper colleagues here in Sangamon County lost 60% or better.
Strangely, I was sad for our little creatures more than I thought I would be....more than if they had simply swarmed. Probably because I felt I could've done a better job preparing them for winter, leaving more food on the hive, or throwing a few more bales of hay around the hive for a wind-break.
So what would I have done differently? What will I do differently in preparation for Winter 2014-15?
1. Make More Fall Combinations.
The first colonies I lost during the "Winter Vortex," or as my friend Dave calls it: "1970's Winters," were those with lower populations. While I didn't count the bees, I knew their numbers were a little short going into the fall. But they were otherwise healthy, and with the good October/November weather and some feeding, thought their numbers would be sufficient to make it through the winter.
I wish I had combined those two colonies into one. Then my percentage might be up to 50% (sort of).
2. Feed Earlier.
If I could have those warm days of November back, I would have put more feed on the hives. Candy boards were not enough. Or, more likely, it was too d#$n cold for our bees to get to the boards. Two of my hives that died out had access to candy boards, but these were not consumed.
3. More Wind Breaks.
The two hives that did make it were on the southwest side of my property, nestled in a tree line facing east. Both had decent wind breaks. With wind-chills in the -20 range, this helped these two survive the cut. What I thought was good enough for at least one other hive wasn't. That particular hive had food and population, and were flying during one of the short warm days in January. But the late, long winter and high winds were too much for them. If I had put in a break, it may have helped.
Two colonies made it. So what was done right?
I mentioned earlier that the two surviving hives had adequate population, food stores and positioning (wind-break).
The other thing these hives had was good mouse guards. There were mice UNDER one of these two hives, but not IN the hive bodies. And if you've ever had mice in your hive, you know they can wreck a lot of havoc with the frames and wax, not to mention all the feces and urine they leave behind. It's my guess that if I hadn't put proper protections in place, I'd have lost at least one more hive due to rodent invasion.
The Good News.
The good news in all of this is that we are hoping the severe winter knocked back some of the varroa population as well as it knocked back our bees.
Accordingly, it's time to rebuild. I'll take these two, hardy-stock hives and make some splits. I'm hoping the genetics of cold-hardiness will translate into good stock for the future. Plus, these two hives are good producers as well. Both came from swarms (my others did too, by the way).
Finally, in my neighbor's tree, about 30 feet up, is a feral colony. I worried about that darn colony all winter long. Imagine my delight when I saw that these girls made it through the winter as well. No help from me. No extra feed, no extra wind-break; mouse guard of 30 feet! I'm hoping they swarm next month to my neighborhood.
Until next time, stay sweet!