The story of the Honey Bee, my story, is a long and interesting one. I'll begin telling it here and add to it as time permits. We're pretty busy in the summer gathering pollen and making honey and doing all the chores back at the hive, but in winter we sleep mostly and if I wake up on warmer days I'll write some more

A Bee Story

By the end of November most bee-keepers have secured their hives for the winter ahead. Perhaps this is the most important time of the year when the bee-keeper has to make sure that all the colonies have been left ample stores in order for the bees to get through the long Canadian winter. The importance of preparing the bees ready for winter, will reflect on next year's honey crop.

Most bee-keepers in colder climates will ensure that the bees are left at least 60 lbs. of honey to get them through from November until May, when the first flower, usually the Dandelion, blooms.

The hives must be kept in a sheltered place out of the prevailing winds facing south and are usually wrapped in a black tar paper or a black winter sleeve that is placed over the entire hive. This black covering is only to absorb the sun's rays in order to heat the inside of the hive allowing the bees to move to another frame of honey since bees cannot move below 45 degrees f. When temperatures remain cold for extensive periods of time with little sunshine, bees may starve to death, with a supply of honey only inches away.

As the temperature drops bees form a tight cluster . The inner cluster which is attached to a frame of honey and where brood is raised, is kept at a temperature of 90 degrees, whereas the space between the outer cluster and the side of the interior of the hive will be no warmer than the exterior of the hive. If the temperature stays cold for long periods of time the bees on the inner cluster next to the honey will work their way to the outside of the cluster and change places with the bees on the exterior of the cluster. It is possible for bees to go six weeks without food.

The importance of keeping the bees in a sheltered spot allows the black wrapping paper to absorb the heat from the sun, thereby bringing the temperature of the hive up to the point where the bees are able to move and allowing them to leave the hive for a cleansing flight [ go to the bathroom ] Bees will very rarely defecate in the hive.

Winter is a quiet time for the bees and the beekeeper. I do however, visit one or two of my favorite bee yards during the winter months just to see that all is well.

On my arrival the only signs of life are the chickadees that are for ever present, hopping from hive to hive and perching on the upper entrance to the hive waiting for an unsuspecting bee to take a flight, where upon it is soon gobbled up by the chickadee. Some of the winter covers are torn at the front of the hive, which tells me that a skunk has been around. The skunk will scratch the front of the hive in order to disturb the bees enough for them to break their cluster and investigate the intrusion at the entrance to the hive. On appearing at the entrance they are quickly snapped up and eaten by the skunk. I quietly leave the bee yard trying not to disturb the skunk.

At the next yard, there are signs of the curious racoons that live in the cedar bush that shelter the bees from the north west winds. Large rocks have been placed on the lids of the hives, but somehow the little critters have found a way of rolling them off. When the bees are dormant the racoons will pry off the beehive lids and reach in to pull out the frames of honey. This they would never be able to do in the summer months when the bees are very defensive and are able to move very quickly. I replace the rocks and want to make sure the bees are still alive. To do this without disturbing them I kneel in the snow with one ear pushed against the side of the hive and by tapping the side of the hive, it disturbs the bees just enough, for them to let me know with a loud hum, that all is well. As I go along the row of hives I am greeted with the same loud hum and I leave the bee yard feeling content, that so far, the bees have made it through the winter

By February we will have had a number of snow storms with high winds. The hives we visited earlier in the year will be buried under high snow drifts which makes good insulation for the bees. Underneath the snow the hives will have their own snow cave which should keep them secure until we are able to see them again in the spring. I hope I have prepared my friends well enough for them to survive and live to bring in another year's crop.

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