Alberta beekeepers had smooth sailing through January. It was so mild in southern Alberta that one beekeeper wrote to ask if bees could be swarming. Swarming to the toilet, yes. Literally swarming with queen in tow, no. But the activity was enough to concern a new beekeeper, I suppose. My own two backyard hives in Calgary acted like they owned the skies and the whole world was their personal sanitation system. (It wasn’t really that bad.) I think there were some record high temperatures last month. We had a chance to peak under the covers at the bees. In my case, I was not impressed with our backyard duet. They were buzzy, but not especially well-populated.
January became February and the tropical vortex was replaced by a polar vortex. It’s lasted two weeks already. What will be the effect of prolonged arctic cold? The good news is that mountain pine beetles, which have been killing millions of Canadian trees, have finally been dealt a setback. Not permanent, but it could buy the trees another year or two of life. But what’s bad for the beetles could be bad for the bees. After the mild days of January, the bees have cancelled all their ‘swarming’ plans. They are now clustered tighter than bugs in rugs.
The picture above is interesting in a couple of ways. I’m experimenting with polystyrene hives with no extra insulation wrapped around them. Having snow on the covers could mean one of two things – either the insulation is keeping all the heat inside, or the bees are dead and there is no heat to lose. I hope it’s the first reason.
So what should a beekeeper be doing in this cold? If your hives went into winter well-provisioned, well-wrapped, and well-populated, you don’t need to do anything. The January thaw gave the bees a chance to take cleansing flights, move closer to honey stores, and let the outer-cluster bees come in and the inner-cluster bees go out. The February cold weather will delay some brooding, but that won’t be a problem yet.
When If it warms up, we might start feeding. In a short while, a bit of fondant might be a good idea.
On a colder note, last week my wheelchair got stuck in the snow at the university. It was minus 25. I spend fifteen minutes, or more, trying to push my chair through the snow by turning the chair’s hubs with my bare hands. (I can’t wear gloves because some paralysis has affected my hands.) By the time I pushed myself into the building, I ended up with mild frostbite. It’s recovering nicely, likely with little lasting damage. If you’ve never seen a slight touch of frostbite, here is a picture of my right hand, taken three days after freezing. The dark areas were against the icy metal on the wheelchair for just a little too long. As soon as I could, I slathered aloe vera and honey (yes, honey) on the burns. So far, the skin hasn’t even blistered. I hope my bees are as lucky.