By Chandra L. Mattingly
One hive richer than in the winter of 2013, I'm hoping my honeybees will winter as well as last year.
To recap this year, all three of my backyard beehives came through last winter with strong populations. Due to the drought, I'd fed honey cappings over the inner covers in September 2012 and again in late February or early March of this year, when I found the strongest hive had the least honey reserves.
By the third week of April, the tops of the frames in all three hives had coatings of white wax, indicating a honey flow. I split all three hives the end of that month, but still had one hive swarm late in May. Here's where it gets interesting! The large swarm settled in the top of a persimmon tree behind the hives, some 30 feet off the ground where I wasn't likely to retrieve it.
I set out an empty hive complete with comb, and Kevin Fancher did the same, baiting his with lemongrass oil. His box was busy with bees for a day or two, but apparently they were just checking it out as nobody moved in.
Meanwhile, when the spouse and I checked the swarm about 10 a.m. the next day, it was still in the tree. But as we watched, the honeybees began to rise from the cluster, circling above the tree – then started flying back into the hive from which they'd come! Eventually, the whole swarm returned to the hive, which I split later on that day.
Had they lost the queen which presumably swarmed with them? Perhaps she was eaten out of the air by a bird? Or - ? Who knows! I do know honeybees will surprise you no matter how many years you keep and observe them.
Well, now I was up to seven hives and waiting to be sure all had queens. I added queen excluders to some and ended up taking off 300 lb. of honey in June when Cindy Cottingham and Jim Orem offered their honey house for the spring fling. That event is terrific and the help and equipment unbelievable!
But the summer and fall nectar collection in my apiary was disappointing. I tend to wonder if Tyson Hermes (see Too Much of a Good Thing) isn't correct in pondering the likelihood that fewer hives in a location are likely to be more successful than multiple hives.
But I also had hives drawing out comb throughout the summer, which diverts a lot of nectar/honey into wax production. One strong division had been hived at its original site in an all-new deep body of foundation, and eventually drew out two deeps of comb and some medium comb. Other hives drew out and in some cases filled some medium frames.
In any case, as the summer progressed, I combined two hives when one failed to raise a queen, then combined two more sets this fall. One had lost its queen, and two others just didn't have the honey stores to get them through the winter, but together should be all right.
Now, like most beekeepers, I'm hoping the four hives have what they will need in the appropriate locations for winter use. They do currently have trays of cappings (wax and honey mixture from decapping combs when extracting) over the inner covers. The wax keeps the bees from drowning in the honey, though much of the honey is partially crystalized.
So – winter is coming, but my thoughts turn, instead, to spring. Should all or most of the hives winter well, and need dividing come April, half will go to an out yard next year. Then we'll see about Tyson's theory.