We always find attending a SEMBA (SouthEast Michigan Beekeeping Association) conference exciting as we listen to presentations, examine the new bee books and other wares from vendors, catch up on gossip with now-familiar faces, and just immerse ourselves for a day in all things honeybee. The most recent one was particularly enjoyable as we attended with our niece, who will be getting her first bees later this year, and her enthusiasm generated an additional second-hand excitement in us. The downside of all this excitement is that it is tiring, especially for a pair of old introverts, and we never have energy to write about the conference without a longish rest during which we forget all about it. Here then a few weeks late are a few items that stuck with us.

Foraging for water is more dangerous than foraging for nectar. In either case the fluid is held by the forager in her crop, a pouch between her mouth and stomach. Although her mission is to keep her payload there until, arriving back at the hive, she regurgitates it to receiver bees for handling, she can instead send it the other way to her stomach. Filled with nectar if she starts feeling faint on the flight home, perhaps because the temperature suddenly dropped, she can just help herself to a nip and keep on. But filled with water the wee sip will do her no good at all. It is rather like running out of gas/petrol while hauling a load of jerrycans home. If the cans are full of more fuel then you arrive home with a slightly smaller payload. If full of water then you are stuck by the roadside, although unlike the bee you might have a mobile phone to call for help. Our unfortunate water forager will simply expire.

Crystallizing in honey can be a problem. We have often been asked if crystallized honey had somehow gone bad and reassuringly replied that, no, it was fine and a little gentle heating would put things aright. Our response is still true as far as it goes but the concentration of sugar in the honey matters. As sugar crystallizes out of the honey, the remaining fluid grows more dilute. If it was not very concentrated at the start then it may even grow dilute enough for mold to form and yeasts to ferment it. There are better ways to try making mead.

Paint hive bodies to prevent damage by woodpeckers. This may not be as general a principle as we have stated it but it is supported by the experience of Rich Wieske of Green Toe Gardens. Always a delightful speaker, he gave a fascinating history of beekeeping in Detroit from its rural beginnings to his own current urban experiences. One of those he illustrated with a picture of a row of Langstroth hives with each unpainted one bearing a large hole through the handhold where the wood is thinnest while the painted ones were untouched.

In more recent news, yesterday was our first day without snow on the ground. A few days before that, with the snow reduced to patches, crocus finally appeared.

SunnySideOfDrivewayOn this equinox young spring and old winter continue to wrestle but with more time in the Fahrenheit forties than the teens spring is beginning to win. The snow grows less deep as it melts into the waiting ground, even exposing patches of long-buried grass on the sunny side of the driveway and a few emerging daffodil shoots.

ShadySideOfDrivewayMeanwhile on the shady side, beyond the dirty, two-foot-high wall of snow built by repeated sessions of plowing, the white remains unbroken. Still that wall was much higher not many days ago. We are encouraged as we await the daffodils it too hides.

FrostyFlakesInDrivewayWhile some of our distant friends are already being greeted by cheerful signs of springtime we, bee-less wretches, are still hosting glum winter with its incessant snowfalls. As a very small consolation for having the bloom of the crocus delayed we yesterday had the appearance of rather pretty frost blossoms on the driveway we plowed the day before. About an inch high they have a delicate fernlike structure that sparkles in the early morning sun. This is surface hoar and reportedly not very rare although we have seen it infrequently and never in such abundance.

FrostyDrivewayScattered down the length of the driveway they made the dirty asphalt seem like a long, slightly winding bed of small, white flowers. It was as if winter, realizing that we have grown quite unappreciative of the beauties of its white, blanketing snow and architectural bare branches, was trying its best impersonation of spring for us. Had this winter been less long and exhausting we would have been more cheered. As it is, we were only briefly distracted from our longing for daffodils.

On a typical winter morning upon rising we walk to the window, clicking the electric kettle on the way, and, raising the blinds, gaze out into the eastern distance over the snow. As the kettle boils we bring our gaze nearer the house and note the new tracks made in the night by the wildlife. Then as the kettle chimes we make our first cups and return to bed for bit longer. Idyllic, and, yes, we are quite fortunate.

CoyotePrintYesterday, upon rising we walked to the window, clicked the electric kettle on the way, and, raising the blinds, gazed out into the eastern distance over the snow. As the kettle boiled we did not need to bring our gaze nearer the house before we noticed what seemed a wide swath in the snow. Following it in closer the snow suddenly was spotted and then blotched with red. With bits of fur scattered. Not so idyllic. A closer examination later suggested that some canid, probably coyote, had caught and dined upon a rabbit.

CoyoteInReposeToday, upon rising we walked to the window, clicked the electric kettle on the way, and, raising the blinds, gazed out into the eastern distance over the snow and saw an unfamiliar hummock near some stalks poking up through the white. Through binoculars we saw that it was a deer. With no gore apparent, it seemed to have simply lain down and frozen. We intended to go out for a closer investigation after breakfast, but before we could do so we saw a coyote still having breakfast on the deer. We tried for some photographs but shooting into glare at a distance through glass windows without a tripod does not produce the best results. Then it walked off a bit to lie down and digest before returning to the carcass for seconds. It ran off when someone came to the house but returned for lunch when we sat down to ours. Supper might be interesting.

Tomorrow, upon rising we shall walk to the window, click the electric kettle on the way, and patiently await its boiling without looking out the window!

We could not resist temptation and did look out the window the next morning. The deer was gone except for a small mass unidentifiable at distance. Thank you, tidy coyote.

DeadAnnabelleCombFor the first time in a long time the temperature hit the Fahrenheit forties this sunny day and we snow-shoed through two feet of white to Annabelle to look for signs of life. To be cruelly brief, there were none.

While a detailed post-mortem will occur another time, there simply did not seem to be many bees at all in cluster, even fewer than when Beatrix died. There may have been more dead on the floor but in the glare of the sun it was hard to tell. There was some honey remaining although not a lot and perhaps inaccessible in the brutal cold we have long endured. The sugar we had left seems untouched but had done its job of absorbing moisture. For now we simply returned with a chunk of comb to ponder.

Naturally we would like to determine what we should have done to have Annabelle survive. But there may have been nought. Even experienced beekeepers hereabouts have winters when they lose a score or so of their colonies, which may be all they had. We did manage to keep her through one winter if not a second one, exceptional in the magnitude and duration of its cold.

If we insist upon a silver lining, the hive has been in need of some repair of both woodware and comb. This will let us provide it without upsetting tenants. And three nucs should be arriving late spring. It will be a long, silent wait.


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