A cold wet summer threatens our honey bees — and the food and
flowers that depend on their good work next Spring.
by Marianne Olive
After a week of freezing cold, honey bees are clustering, forming a ball around the queen to maintaining her body temperature at a constant 90 degrees. In the summer these same workers fan their wings to create their own air conditioner within the hive.
The worker bees maintain the queen’s temperature by tightening the cluster or loosening it as needed. Honey bees are cold blooded and can live for 30 minutes at 40 degrees so the outside of the cluster switches place with those in the inside every half hour.
Honey bees are so fascinating. They mesmerize me just watching their daily routine. They are such an organized group and work so well together for the good of the hive. People should learn how to work together like honey bees.On Indian Summer days when the weather is warmer the worker bees go out to pollinate the fall blooms. I watch the hives as the worker bees kick out the drones who no longer a purpose and can’t afford to be fed throughout the winter. Most worker bees live only for five or six weeks, but fall worker bees live throughout the winter and into the spring until the queen starts laying again.
During the fall and winter, the queen does not lay at all. About late February she resumes laying and will continue nonstop till the following fall. She will lay 20 or 30 drones every five or six weeks whose sole purpose is to inseminate a queen if the queen slows down in producing eggs. If that should occur, the worker bees may “ball the queen” which means that they will surround her and suffocate her. They will then feed 7 or 8 egg cells royal jelly and within 21 days all will emerge as queens; the strongest will kill the others and she will then be the new queen. After a few days of being groomed and fed, she will then take her “virgin flight” and fly about 20 ft above the hive. 10 to 30 drones, whose eyes are much larger than the worker bees, will fly after her and inseminate her. Immediately afterwards, they drop to their death. When she is full of their sperm, she returns to the hive and immediately starts to fill the egg cells. She will never leave the hive again, nor see the light of day unless she slows down in producing eggs and may fly out of the hive for her “final flight”. One third of the colony will then follow her and form a swarm around her. The foragers will seek a new home, sometimes in a hollow of a tree, a hole in a house or barn or a shed.
Occasionally people may see swarms hanging from a tree. If you do, don’t hesitate to call me. I will come and re-hive the swarm and start a new colony. I opened up my hives to check on the queens, the honey, brood (eggs) and to check for mites, wax moths or other disease. Just feeling the weight of the hive, I knew they did not have enough honey to survive the winter which means I have to feed them throughout the winter. I make a tea with herbs from my garden; stinging nettle, chamomile, mint, sage and also black walnut bark and boil it with equal parts of sugar and water. This will be fine until it is freezing at which point I must make them fondante which is cooked till 237 degrees to form a solid sugar like cake.
I lost three hives this year. Hives without honey for the winter may not survive. Because New York had a wet and rainy summer which washed away the pollen, beekeepers are likely to lose least 50% more hives this winter.
We need more back yard bee keepers. We are in serious danger of losing our bee population. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating 90% of all of the fruits and vegetables in the country. Pesticides are killing a huge percentage of the bees. Pesticides seep into our drinking water supply. People wonder why so much cancer and disease exists. Start looking in your own back yard.
Disease has weakened the population and it’s time that we, as individuals take responsibility and help our little friends. They work harder than any person I know. They are harmless and totally disinterested in people unless someone were to attack their hive. Their main goal is to pollinate and work to keep the hive growing.
Did you know that honey turns into hydrogen peroxide and act as a healer for wounds. It is a great skin treatment too. For those interested in bee keeping, please don’t hesitate to call on me for help and guidance. You will love it!
If you have questions about beekeeping, please call me at (845) 358-8540.
Photo Credit: nyackbackyard blog