Friday. I've been needing to visit the bees to give them sugar syrup for days, but have not wanted to open up the hives when there is rain or wind, or frigid temperatures.... Finally, I decided to try this afternoon since it was supposed to be about 50 degrees and not raining (maybe).
When I arrived at the hives, I had a surprise. There were several clusters of bees hanging out at the front of the nearest hive, and a bunch flying around in front. What was going on? (see below)
At first I thought they may be about to swarm. Bees have a natural tendency to swarm in the spring after their population expands and they start to run out of room. You do not want your bees to swarm - when that happens you lose a large proportion of your worker population that are going to produce the honey you want. So when I saw that I was a little anxious. But after thinking about it I decided it was unlikely. For one thing, it didn't actually look like a swarm, it looked like an aggregation of bees hanging out in front of the hive. For another, it seemed too early for a swarm; it seemed more likely that what I was seeing was a sudden increase in the population of bees in that hive following the emergence of all the pupae that developed from all the eggs that would have been laid by the queen about a month ago. In fact, I had a vague memory of Adam Fuller (our Bee School instructor) saying that every year, new bee keepers call him up in early April in alarm at the sudden ridiculously large number of bees in their hive(s).
When I opened up that hive (pictured above) it looked like I had arrived with the sugar syrup not a moment too soon - I didn't have time to take out frames and look at them since I had only 30 mins until I had to leave to pick up the twins from school, but it looked like there was pretty much no stored honey left! I poured the sugar syrup in and left them happily lapping it up while I put the hive lid back on.
When I opened the other hive, there were huge numbers of bees there too! (Picture below) Compare this picture with the picture taken on Feb 28th below! This hive seemed to have no stored honey left either. I gave them the rest of the sugar syrup (feeder is where the two holes are below).
This hive had some new honey in cells on the top. You can barely see it - it's where there is a little mound of bees just above and between the two feeder holes. So they must be finding nectar from somewhere. At this time of year, bees should be finding dandelions. However, I will really need to feed them a lot in the next few weeks!
I noticed quite a large number of bees clinging to the grass below the first hive too (the one that had had all the bees hanging out in front when I arrived). When I left, they were still there. I took a closer look and realized it was a repeat of what I had witnessed back on January 31st. Looked like they had come out when the sun was out, and settled on mass on the blades of grass to sun themselves, and then the sun went behind a cloud and the temperature dropped and there they were, kind of stuck (see Sunday January 31st Another bee mystery, below). I have to say, bees seem to be a little pathetic sometimes!
It seems so harsh to just leave there there to die in the grass when they are still alive and so close to home. I racked my brains to think how I could save them when such things happened. Bring a hair drier and a very long extension cord?? Bring out a hot water bottle? Nuts. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I should stop interfering. At the last Bee School class about a month ago, we were told that older bees and sick bees deliberately leave the hive to die away from it, which helps those still living in the hive not have to deal with removing their body or being infected if they were ill. How did I know these weren't just old bees making space for younger ones? In any case, there was nothing I could do.