Sunday, January 3, 2010

A reassuring message in the midst of frigid weather...

The weather forecasters missed it by almost four-degrees. This morning's predicted low was supposed to be 18...but as you my was 14.9. Okay, I'll give them the 10th of a degree and we'll say they missed it by three degrees. They were close anyway.

As you may recall from my post earlier this week entitled "Weather warning: Batten down the hatches" -- North Carolina and the eastern states are in a nasty pocket of frigid weather right now. And according to the local weather prognosticators, it doesn't look like we'll warm up too much for the next few days. Overnight temperatures are expected to climb back to the regular range of the 20s by later this coming week...and then we have the threat of snow on Friday. It seems like, at least here anyway, that Old Man Winter is making up for those really milder winters we've had over the last few years. All I can say is, C'MON SPRINGTIME!

I got a really nice email reply from Richard Underhill. Richard is a fellow blogger and beekeeper, and you can read his posts from the links on the right side of my blog. He owns the Peace Bee Farm in Proctor, Arkansas, and he is the former President of Memphis Area Beekeepers Association and the Tennessee Beekeepers Association. All of that and he's a really nice guy too.

Anyway, I sent him an email to ask about shutting off screened bottom boards...and about all the dead bees I've found in front of my hive in the last few weeks. Since I've read so many blogs lately where people have the same concerns about dead bees near their hives in winter, I thought I would share his reply with you. After all, he's a very experienced beekeeper and you don't become the president of two large beekeeping organizations while you're a novice. Here's what Richard had to say:


Greetings, I’m glad that you are finding my writings of interest. Thanks for the kind words and your most interesting hive observations.

From your descriptions, it sounds like you have a healthy hive which is well set-up for the winter. Keep in mind that there are two requirements for successfully over wintering a hive of honey bees. First, they must have an adequate store of honey which is located where the bees can access it. It is usually best to go into the winter with the cluster of bees low in the center of the hive with capped honey above the cluster. Second, the hive must have adequate ventilation. It looks like your bees have both.

Protection from the cold is not a requirement. You should be able to safely leave the plastic insert off of the screened bottom board even in the coldest of North Carolina winters. The design of a honey bee nest with parallel sheets of honeycomb is quite good at blocking the wind. As the bees eat the honey stored in the honeycomb over the course of the winter, the empty cells filled with dead air provide excellent insulation to hold the warmth of the cluster of bees.

Finding a hundred or more dead bees in front of the hive in the winter and seeing worker bees carrying out dead bees on a warm day seems quite normal for a healthy hive. Typically, a hundred bees die inside the hive in a day’s time. At this time of the year the only surviving bees are those born in the fall. They are the bees that have a longer life span of about six months, and they will feed the new brood in the late winter for the colony’s spring build-up. Among the dead large and small bees found on the ground, there were probably drones forced out in the late fall and possibly some chilled brood.

Nothing that you mentioned sounds an alarm. It looks like the colony is in good condition to complete the winter and start its spring build-up as soon as the bees find some dandelion and red maple pollen on a warm January day.

Best wishes,
Richard Underhill
Peace Bee Farm
Proctor, Arkansas

So there you have it! Thanks so much to Richard Underhill for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer questions from a newbie like me. His email made me feel so much better about my hive and knowing that all seems to be okay. I do appreciate it! And I hope others that read this blog can take comfort that maybe the lack of activity in our hives during these cold months just means that our girls are snug inside their homes and doing just fine.
Stay warm!  


  1. Mark, thanks to you and Richard for sharing that info. I've been fortunate as a beginner beekeeper to have wonderful mentors to answer questions and calm my many fears. As bloggers, aren't we lucky that Richard has chosen to share his vast knowledge via his blog. It is excellent!

    See you soon.

  2. Hey Mark, You don't know me, but I keep track of your bee activity through your blog and your comments on Walter-Bee. Just wanted to let you know that even though I have no bees, that your reassuring post even made ME feel better, as in relieved. The success of my garden will, in large part, depend on your success in protecting our amazing little pollinators. My hat is off to you and Lynn! May your tribe increase!



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