March 7, 2014 observation from car-
Believe it or not, it hit 40F today, and it feels warm and sunny. I'm in a big boot to protect my ankle from my recent surgery, and I decided I could stand to wait no longer to know if my bees had survived the winter. I hobbled to my car and did my best to drive it out to the bees in my backyard and looked from the car window longingly at them. Well, no one was flying of course, because it was 40F. I looked closely at the two hives. I saw three dead bees on hive #2's front landing board entryway "porch." But, no way to know if the hive was alive, because I didn't know when these girls had been kicked out. It was since Ashley had visited at the end of February, and she had cleaned the front porch of the hive off. I saw no dead ones on hive #1's front porch. Bad news for that hive. They are definitely no more.
March 15, 2014
I drove my car to behind the house to look at the beehives again. Today is up to 65F; the first real warm temperatures we have had. Some flowers are starting to bloom, and all kinds of bees are on my neighbor's purple crocuses that have opened in between snow storms. The boot on my bad foot is awkward, and the ground is a bit uneven, but I have to know. I could not see if anyone was flying from the hives and they should have been on this warmer sunnier day. So, I hobbled over to hive #2. No new dead bees had been kicked out. Oh sigh and sadness! I stuck a stick in the entry hole and pulled it out, hoping someone (a little guard bee) would be roused and come out to check on me. Nothing. Oh man! I watched a few more minutes. My heart sank. A housefly and two blowflies landed at the same time on the side of hive #2. Damn! Not a good sign at all. These creatures, especially the blowflies, are attracted to death and destruction. So, there must be bee corpses inside. Time to go in and see.
I opened up the top cover to inspect,... no activity, no warmth, a few dead corpses between frames. The top super was still full of frames of honey. I cracked the propolis sealing this super to the one below it with my hive tool, and lifted the super over to a bench I use to hold the supers while I check through the hive as a whole. It was hard to lift it due to the weight of the remaining honey, and the ground was hard to negotiate with my humongous protective foot boot; hope I'm not overdoing it, I thought. My ankle may pay for this, but I need to know. I looked in the next super. Less honey, and there they were, all in a small cluster on the second and third frames in from the outside. They were all dead. Loyal servants to their queen to the end. Surrounding her and trying to keep her warm, but the cluster just got too small to heat the hive up to its necessary 92F temperature. I stood and admired them in respect and in honor of their valiant service. Such commitment and loyalty to their monarch to the bitter (and I mean bitter cold!) end.
I know when they died. That night it got down to -1F on March 3rd, 2014. Going into the winter the hive was not huge, and if it had been a normal winter, well, that smallish cluster of individuals could have made it. There was enough honey. But, we've had four bouts now of sub zero temperatures! Such winters are just unheard of in this area of the mid-Atlantic. And, of course, I could do nothing to help them along with my ankle surgery and recovery. They were on their own. They almost made it! I do admire them.
Well, I set about the task of removing the supers and pulling out the screened bottom board with all the little bee corpses. Because of bacteria and disease, you do not want these to sit here too long. They've been refrigerated since they died, but with warmer temperatures, decomposition is not something you want inside the hive (which is normally pretty sterile). You also do not want to dump the corpses near the hive and attract hive beetles and other pests. So, I remove the corpses and throw them away far from the hive. Then, because it is a sunny day, and sun is the best uv light sterilizer there is, I place the bottom board in full sunlight to sterilize them. A little honeybee from a neighboring beeyard shows up and buzzes me. Kind of a flyover salute to my hives, I think. I leave the supers stacked-up. They do have honey in them, and that could be an issue if found by some of this bee's hungry sisters. But, it's just barely warm enough for bees to fly, anyway. So, I won't worry about it until the bottom boards get some good sunlight on them; (I also cleaned out hive #1). I've already ordered two new packages of bees and they are due to arrive on April 3rd, 2014. This same equipment needs to be ready to greet them.
March 16, 2014 4pm
The bottom boards have sat out in the sun, but today is more overcast and a snow storm (yes, another one!) is headed our way. I cannot let these pine wooden pieces of equipment lie out open in the weather. They will get moist, warp, and be areas for fungal growth. Not good for a hive's insides! So, I drive back out to the backyard and hobble over in my boot and close all parts of the two hives back up again. Just as I finish, it starts to snow. We get 6 inches. Spring is supposedly next week!