I have very low expectations when it comes to my bee hives. Low expectations are one of the best possible things to have regarding everything, and they have served me well thus far in my beekeeping experience.
Basically, I always expect that everything I do will kill my bees. Then, when they aren’t dead, I am pleasantly surprised. So far, they are still alive, so things are pretty much looking up.
I’ve done a number of things in order to keep my bees not-dead and almost every single one of them has required the assistance of someone with a better sense of optimism than I. I’ve mentioned my friend, Ellen, in almost every post I’ve written about the bees and this is because Ellen a) is delightful and deserves to be mentioned at every opportunity and b) is responsible for the current not-deadness of my bees in several ways.
In addition to providing me with a beautiful and life-saving bee suit after I had a misunderstanding with several bees that left me in the hospital with an antihisthamine drip, Ellen has come to the rescue more recently by providing me with Bee Patties.
When I took honey from my bees this autumn, I worried and worried that I wasn’t leaving them with enough honey to survive the winter. After going through the hives time and again, I finally realized that there was more than enough honey for us and for them and I should stop worrying and just take the wonderful honey and be quiet already.
So I did.
As the weather turned colder, however, and the winter got more wintery, I resumed my worrying full-force. One day, I went out to see how the hives felt. I decided that if they both felt nice and heavy, I’d go back to not worrying.
The first hive felt nice and heavy and that was great because it was the one I’d thought had been left with fewer frames to get through the winter. Expecting the second one to feel the same, I gave it an equally forceful lift, only to have it almost fall away from my hands because it was, in fact, a good deal lighter than the first.
I knew I couldn’t give them a bucket of bee food in liquid form (which I sometimes did in the spring while they were building up their honey stores) because it would drip on them and freeze and kill them.
Worrying amplified. I called Ellen.
She knew that bee patties were the answer. These are sold commercially by almost all bee supply houses. Serious, hard-core beekeepers even make their own, but I’m thinking I’m not quite to the level of homemade bee supplies just yet.
The patties are pollen supplements and, because they contain actual pollen, the bees tend to accept them as an okay alternative to honey. Typically, it is recommended to feed these in early spring before the honeyflow to allow the colonies to be at maximum strength when the honeyflow comes. But I wasn’t waiting around for spring. I was killing my bees (again) and something had to be done.
She left the bee patties for me and I waited until the weather warmed up enough to open the hive safely. Ideally, I wouldn’t open the hives unless it was 50 degrees or warmer, but if I waited for that, I was certain they’d all be goners. So, once the really cold weather passed, there was a day that went into the low 40s with Actual Sunshine; so I went for it.
The trick to installing bee patties is to ensure that you are placing them directly above where the bees are. Bees in cold weather will huddle for warmth and have been known to starve to death mere inches from a food source because they wouldn’t break away from the cluster protecting the queen. While I am looking for that sort of allegience from my own children, it is a serious problem in terms of potential bee survival.
Lucky for me (and, I suppose, for the bees as well), when I removed the top, the bees were right there, swarming around and seemingly content. I hadn’t killed them yet! All was right with the world!
I placed both patties on top of the uppermost frames and, admittedly, on top of some bees who weren’t getting out of the way fast enough. I knew I needed to move quickly and if they weren’t cooperating, well…
I’d been advised to add a couple of shims to give the bees space to move around the patties, which I did, and then replaced the top box and covers.
So now my bees are fed and I can rest easy knowing that I’ve done all that I can do to help them get through the winter. Sometimes, on sunny, warmish days I see them flying around and my heart does a little jig.
No one’s promising me that there will be hives thriving in the spring, but as long as I keep my expectations at ankle-height, it’s pretty much a guarantee I won’t be too let down.