Extreme Wintering 2008

by Jorge

BiggestMeow's comment in the last entry mentioned our yard that sits at the bottom of a river levy....Well, that yard no longer holds any bees. Now to divulge the circumstances of vacating that yard ;) On two occasions, we fished the bees out of a few feet of water, but this year the story had a different spin.

Things about this winter were different to begin with....I'd never hauled corn syrup to the bees on a sled before. Basically the entire first round of feeding went over snow and into hive. Nothing like trudging through a couple of feet of snow to save your bees from starvation:

But things went even stranger when our usual flooding problems at the levy on the South Skunk River took a new twist. Instead of splashing through muck and water to get the bees to dry ground, we busted them out of the ice. The whole operation took place in a sloppy mess of snow, ice, and frigid water. The lesson here? Keep the bees off the floodplains!!

Here you can see Phil attempting to liberate the hives without slipping into the arctic pool:

And here is the image just before we started hauling them away. Those hives are still sitting next to the east side of the house. At least this miserable winter gave me some exceptional photo opportunities :))

A Pollination Adventure

by Jorge

Hinegardner Orchard in Montour requested that we take bees for apple pollination in short order, so Alex and I loaded the 4x4 and headed north. With the flatbed out of commission, the job is considerably more laborious. Ideally we used the Swinger to load several 4-way pallets, and then Dave Hinegardner unloads them with his tractor forks. Due to our unfortunate circumstances, we stacked two layers of 10 colonies into a standard bed and unloaded by hand......the unloading took place in a raging thunderstorm. My whole purpose in transporting them last night was to avoid the bad weather in the forecast, but the sky turned ugly as we headed north.

When we pulled into the dark orchard around 9.00 p.m., Dave waited for us with headlights shining and proceeded to lead us to the various drop locations. Somehow we managed to unload everything without falling into the mud or slipping on the truck bed....hopefully things go as smoothly when we pull them out next week--but I don't mind if we skip the rain this time around!

No weather worries as we finished loading the colonies destined for apple blossoms.....

In the end there was a very wet Jorge driving home in the dark.

The Good News and the Bad News

by Jorge

Sunshine and warmth were the good news today. I had begun to wonder if the dandelion bloom would amount to anything, but I saw some respectable patches of yellow today. We'll hope the progress continues and the bees find some nourishment and vigor.

The bad news? Alex and I broke down with the flatbed at about 11:00 a.m. this morning.

We went to fetch the last couple of pallets from a bee yard we lost to a family that bought the land and plan a house about 100 feet away from the bees' location. I don't blame them for not wanting bees that close to their new home. They apparently have children as well, and most people have no clue about how to get along with bees on a day to day basis. Unfortunately, we are on quite a streak with losing yards and needing to relocate.

Back to the bad truck business. All spring I've been driving the half-ton 4x4 to get around in the snow, mud, and wet grass. The 4x2 flatbed doesn't handle those conditions with any grace at all. The last time I drove the flatbed was the day I got it stuck, but today everything dried out and I wanted to get those bees to their new home.....I told the family in March that I would try to get them out by the beginning of April. The bees made it to the new location, but the truck died a couple of miles from home. A sudden loss of power followed by a knock in the engine signaled our new dilemma. Barring a miracle repair, it looks like truck shopping just moved to the top of the agenda.

We've also sold off the bulk of our MN Hygienic queens. Splitting hit a wall, so about half of the MN Hygienics went to people calling for queens. Now we have a few of the MN queens scattered hither and thither instead of having large numbers installed in a number of yards. Marla has shown that hygienic colonies are less hygienic if mixed with large numbers of non-hygienic colonies. So that evaluation is basically off the list, and AFB remains as much a concern for us as ever. The situation would be brighter if the hygienics came before the Carniolans, but the sequence of arrival did not cooperate.

Here is some of that lovely orange pollen.....

And just for fun, here is what happens when the robbing gets out of hand....bees all over everything

Fewer bees this year

by Jorge

It appears our colony count will wind up a little lower this year. A few years ago we were around 700, but the long winter has a number of the hives looking quite weak. That is a sad fact considering that forty percent of last year's hives didn't even survive the winter. The first round of splitting only added 100 colonies to the 2008 total. I'll start going around again in a few days, but I'm guessing that 525 represents the maximum I can scrape together. Too many brood boxes sit in the building waiting for bees. The bees looked excellent going into winter, and my mind anticipated a summer of 800 rather than 500. So it goes. This might be the motivation I needed to head south for the winters.

On the bright side, I suppose I won't feel quite so crushed for time as I write my history dissertation in the coming year. Some comfort I suppose.

Yellow blossoms arrive

by Jorge

The dandelions started to bloom a couple of days ago. I thought it might take a little longer before the bees got to visit them, but they are starting to come back to the hives with a fair amount of orange pollen. Now we have to hope the weather starts to cooperate so those flowers don't go to waste!

Yesterday we installed Minnesota Hygienics in some splits--we ordered 100 from Mark Sundberg. Marla Spivak suggested that his queens mate with hygienic drones instead of the usual genetic mess. Most of the big queen breeders have little control over their production queen matings. The breeder queens are usually purebreds maintained through artificial insemination, and their production daughter queens (which we buy) are purebreds as well. The problem is the midair free-for-all that hybridizes the offspring workers. Then beekeepers decide to experiment with MN Hygienic, Carniolan, Russian, etc. and wind up basing their opinions on a hive with worker bees that are 50% mongrel Italian. Not a sound manner of evaluating any line of bees. Anyway, these MN Hygienics will decide whether or not we want to shift toward Marla's line in the long term.

I'm a little skeptical about moving away from Carniolans because the Italians take a lot more feed in spring and fall--Carniolans step down their brood rearing at appropriate times. Then again, I never want to see American Foulbrood again, and it seems unlikely that a Hygienic Carniolan line is on the near horizon. Also, our ability to feed hungry Italians has improved in the past few years...now we feed bulk corn syrup, have many division board feeders installed, and we purchased a syrup pump a few weeks ago. The next year or two will show how we get along with these bees.

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