Transitions between summer and winter are never smooth. A few weeks ago night time temperatures were dancing about the freezing point, giving us frosty asters in the morning, and daytimes stayed cool. Peeking into observation windows showed no bees. They were in cluster far from our eyes. Then a week of Indian summer had them once again crawling over the combs and flying to forage. Now cold weather has returned with hurricane Sandy. The basil is dead brown, some snow is expected, and the bees are not venturing far.
Having already witnessed the eviction of the drones, we have since seen visiting drone repulsion. During strong nectar flows drones from anywhere are welcome in any hive. No longer. We would see a flying drone attempt entrance and be blocked by guard bees. On occasion he would make it into the hive and be pushed back out by several workers acting in concert, biting at him if he tried to re-enter. This is the same treatment given to the odd lone yellowjacket trying its luck. Drones are unequivocally hymenoptera non grata at this time. This may also explain why we saw a pair of bees flying from Beatrix carrying what appeared to be a bee larva between them and dropping it on the ground. Bees are known to varying degrees to remove and dispose of larvae that are dead or ill or infested or, at this of year, male.
We had taken advantage of a borderline warm day to do a little winter preparation, removing the syrup baggies, in which the girls had lost interest, and the hive beetle traps, as well as corking the follower board holes. We also corked an entrance hole on each hive, leaving just the first two. We saw no living hive beetles at all and removed what corpses we could. And we finally put a proper roof on Beatrix, which we will detail in a later post.
More winter preparation is ahead of us as the girls stay in cluster for increasing periods of time. Just today we closed another entrance hole on each hive to leave just one. We will have to provide insulation above the top bars, a winter wind break, and perhaps fondant for feed in case the honey runs out. Our notions of exactly how to do this are still a bit vague and must become more clear very soon.
Both colonies are active although Annabelle remains larger and more vigorous. Is it simply luck of the genes carried by the queen and her late mates? Do Beatrix’s thicker walls, intended to retain heat in winter, keep her from warming quickly in summer? What should we do in either hive to ensure ventilation and prevent deadly condensation without losing heat? In some ways we are elated to be worrying since last year by this time all our bees were dead.