Often times, people are surprised to learn that our family maintains several hives of honeybees in our backyard. The most common question I’m asked is whether we are frequently stung.  As it turns out, stings are exceptionally rare, and in six years of beekeeping, has only happened a few times, and then, only when I was working inside a hive and not properly protected (not wearing gloves, open pants, etc). We have a swing set, slide, hammock, yard, and pool on our 1 1/2 acres, and even though the yard is also home to some 100,000+ honeybees, we have never had anyone at our home stung when involved in recreational activities. Honeybees are not aggressive, rather, they are intent on their work, usually gathering nectar, pollen and water. They will fly up to five miles away to gather nectar, so they cover quite a large area in their foraging and are only “home” at the hive, when they are returning with their food or setting out again. Most of their foraging brings them far away from our yard. Honeybees will sting, of course, but do so usually to protect their colony.

When people describe being “stung by a bee.” they usually have been harmed by a hornet or wasp (yellow-jackets included), but all insect stings are often attributed to “bees.”  Bees can usually be distinguished from wasps by the fuzz on their thorax. To see some comparisons, see:
Another question I’m often asked is, “What happens to the bees in the winter, do they hibernate?”  The answer is no. All winter long a colony of honeybees remains active in its hive. The worker bees cluster around their queen, feeding her, and vibrating their wings and bodies to maintain a temperature within parts of the cluster at over 80 F., despite the outside temperature, which can go well below zero without harm to the colony.We wait until the first warm days of late winter to see whether the bees are flying and we rejoice when we see them on our flowers. The first early blooms in our yard are snow bells and crocuses, both of which are important early pollen sources for the honeybees.2011-12 was an unusually mild winter in Southwestern Connecticut. That can actually mean trouble for the bees. If the daytime temperature is higher than 50 F., the bees will break from their cluster to take cleansing flights and scout out nectar and pollen sources. They expend energy doing so, and need to replenish it by consuming stores of honey (carbohydrate source for bees) and bee bread (protein source for bees–the bees make it by combining pollen they collect from flowers with enzymes, nectar, bacteria and fungi).  If the bees go through too much of their stores, they can run out of food and starve.

Here are some photos of our bees who survived through February, to come out on a nice warm day. We hope and pray the remaining cold weather doesn’t harm the bees and they make it through the rest of spring.

March 8, 2012
I opened both hives and looked in. This is about a month earlier than I would normally take a peek, but seeing as it was in the mid-sixties, I decided to give it a try. I just wanted to see if there was honey in the hives to see the bees through the remainder of the spring and assist with brood rearing, and there was. Both hives have at least one box of stored honey, which is great news. In about a month, early April, if there are sufficient honey stores, I may be able to divide each of my two colonies, making four hives. Then, if they build up their numbers through spring, I should be able to get a decent honey harvest from my girls.

I didn’t take any photos today, because I just wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. Next time I’ll snap some photos, but really, all looked great in there. In fact, better than any other year I’ve had bees. I like mild winters!

I’ll continue to post about the bees as the season progresses.

March 14, 2012

Today was another unseasonably warm day, and at 70 F. the bees were out and about in force, bringing in lots of bright yellow pollen. Yesterday I turned around the entrance reducers that I put on in the fall, to narrow the opening. Now they are on their larger opening, allowing better traffic flow into and out of the hives.

Here’s a video of the bees today:

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April 13, 2012.  Today was Good Friday, and all three kids were home from school.  It was a great day to get into the beehives. Aliya, Josiah and Elias all helped. We brought out a new box for each hive and added it on top of the brood nest. The idea was to expand the brood nest and keep the bees building comb and laying more brood to divert their attention from swarming.  I think we did it just in the nick of time. There were lots of bees in both hives and there was drone brood in evidence, but we did not see any emerged drones. Bees can’t begin the process of swarming until they have drones emerged, so we may have done this just right. brought some of the frames full of brood up to the new box, and put some empty frames in the box immediately under the new one (two boxes with honey were on top of the brood area).

The kids were great helpers!

By the end of the season, the bees are no longer making lots of brood as they are above. Instead, they’re concentrating on storing as much nectar and pollen as possible before it’s all gone from the plants. Usually, that means after the first hard frost, but that came a few nights ago, on October 12, 2012.  Today, on October 14, they were flying like mad.

Last week I got the hives ready for bed, as we say. Aliya helped me take off the feeders on the two hives that had been robbed of their honey by the big strong hive in the center. We added a piece of homosote board under the outer cover of the hive to reduce moisture over the winter, and left them alone. From here on out, it’s up to them. We can only hope and pray that they make it through the winter.  According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we should get a cold wet season. My sweet bees have to last until spring time. The happiest day is that first warm day in March when the bees are buzzing around and I am extatic, I hope, I hope!!

This is a comb the bees have prepared beautifully for winter, it is all gorgeous, dark honey. Yum, they’ll need it to make it through until spring. The entire top box is filled with more of the same (partly because this hive robbed out the small hive in the bee yard, and started to get at the honey in other hive as well, but I stopped that by putting entrance reducers on all three hives and closing the top entrances.