Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter Bee Yard Checks

Beekeepers leave their colonies alone for most of the winter, as it is not safe to open the bee hives in cold weather and chill the tightly clustered bees. It is a good habit, though, to visit the bee yards from time to time in the winter. Much can be told about the bees without opening the hives. A quick glance will tell that all hives are standing upright. Vandalism sometimes occurs in bee yards when the bees are not seen flying. Armadillos can burrow large tunnels under hive stands and cause hives to topple. All hive covers and entrance reducers should be in place. There should not be too many dead bees on the ground. A few dead bees on the landing board usually means that the colony is healthy and the workers are removing the bees that routinely die inside the hive. Wild animals can be a problem in the bee yard. I find fish bones atop the hives in one of my bee yards where raccoons perch on the hives to dine. Fortunately, they have not removed any covers so far. Skunks are a true pest of the bee hive. They scratch at the hive with their claws and then eat the bees as they respond to the disturbance. Evidence of skunks in the bee yard is scratches on the front of the bee hive and balls of chewed-up honey bee exoskeletons on the ground. Raccoons, skunks, and opossums can easily be lured into a live trap using sardines as bait. They need to be transported a number of miles for release, else they will be back in the bee yard tomorrow night. We don’t have bears around our bee yards, but in some areas electric fences are a necessity.

The picture shows a large oak tree being removed from one of my bee yards. The two hundred year old tree fell earlier in the year during a storm; the massive trunk barely missed six hives.

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