I am in the sky at 34,002 feet as I write this, on my way to California and thinking about my rain-sodden bees in Virginia. Northern Virginia had five days of solid rain, well over 5 inches (12 cm) of water at our house. The bees (and the people) have been huddled away waiting for it to end. As I left the house the sun peered out to see what was left of the land.
With fall firmly in place, I naturally wonder whether the bees have enough food for the winter. Last year I was able to bring my three hives through to the spring. I hope my five hives will do the same for my second winter with bees. Yesterday I provided some additional food for some of the hives to help pull them through.
The long rain means that the hives have been eating their stores. Before the rain, on September 25, I checked my hives Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. Jupiter and Saturn were suprisingly full of nectar. I fed Venus in September, so no surprise there. Saturn was especially packed with nectar, much to my delight. Part of a comb is shown below. Jupiter, on the other hand, did not have a lot of nectar present. Larva and capped brood, but not a lot of stores.
On the mites front, I did a sugar shake of both Jupiter and Saturn on September 25 while I was in the hives. Jupiter had zero mites: none, zippo, zilch. Not sure what to make of it. I had bees from two brood frames, and double checked the result. No mites.
In Saturn I found 3 mites, which out of 300 bees is a 1% infestation. Saturn had 1 mite out of 300 in August, so the mites are growing. Not enough to reach my 2% threshold for treating, but enough to worry about. If it stays warm I will check again in October.
Yesterday, on October 1, I made a large batch of 2:1 sugar syrup: two parts sugar to one part water. This makes a thick syrup that the bees can prepare and store for the winter. To complicate matters we are redoing our kitchen after 20 years in our little house. So I had to make syrup without a stove and without kitchen counters. You can make 1:1 syrup with warm tap water, you need heated water to dissolve the sugar for 2:1 syrup.
Our tea kettle came to the rescue. It can boil 6 cups of water at a time. I mixed the hot water with a little cold and give it a few minutes to cool; then I added 12 cups of sugar. Too much heat will break down sugar in a way that is not good for bees, so I tried not to have it too warm. I mixed in a little vinegar to keep the syrup from going moldy, and a little sea salt for some flavor and minerals. You can see my ready bowls of sugar and the heated water in the image here on our makeshift kitchen counter.
One of my two top feeders from Brushy Mountain is shown on Mars at the beginning of this post. The feeders have two chambers for syrup, and the bees climb up the middle through the inner cover. There is a plastic screen with wooden floats that is supposed to keep the bees from drowning. I have seen it drown a bunch of bees, however. A recent Beekeeper’s Corner podcast suggested that the tolerances of these floats were too tight. So I sanded the edges slightly in hopes that would help. I try to keep the hives level, which seems to help as well.
Three trips to the bee yard later, I had filled a feeder on Jupiter with 17 cups of syrup, and one on Mars wit 22 cups of syrup. For good measure I filled the quart feeder on Venus as well.
Of course, sugar syrup is not the best food for bees, especially heated syrup. Natural nectar has a better balance of minerals and other nutrients. Still, with winter coming I don’t completely trust myself as a beekeeper to judge the hives ready for winter. So I feed the hives and feel better about it.
After I had fed Jupiter and Mars, the bees grew much more active. It could have been the warmer weather we had yesterday, yet they seemed to be celebrating the additional food in the hive, in their own way. The picture here shows the bees around Jupiter’s entrance.
Right as rain
This expression was the subject of post in 2013 on. Elyce Bruce’s Idiomation site. It appears to be an alliterative variant of the phrase “right as…” which traces back before the 1400’s. According to this link, the word “right” had an original meaning of straight. So the phrase “right as…” implies that something was straight and true. As such, when something is “right as rain” everything is perfectly fine.
Given the buckets of rain we’ve had this past week, I just had to find a phrase using the word “rain” for this post. Given the bees seemed perfectly fine as I watched them flying to and fro today, this seems even more appropriate.