Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. They deserve our salute and support for that alone.
But beyond that, the food for which bees are integral is the food we really love—pumpkins for pumpkin pie, apples for sauce, the cranberries on the Thanksgiving table. Thanks bees!
One way you can show your thanks is to give them something to eat if the weather cooperates again. Last balmy Sunday, we poured 2:1 sugar syrup in a shallow tray, complete with sticks so they don’t drown. They were delighted to find it; we were enthralled watching them.
Pollen and nectar sources are likely gone this time of year, as are most wasps and other stinging critters. (If you set out sugar syrup in September it gets a bit crazy when all stinging insects in a three-county area gather ‘round.)
Putting out food is often called “open feeding.” Lay out the picnic several yards from any hives, as the activity could set off raiding of weaker hives.
It’ll probably take sunny temps above 40 with little wind, or 50ish degrees and clouds, but bees may come out searching for food. Better to have them dining out than eating their winter stores.
Here are some other things to consider for your apiary this time of year:
Cleansing flights: In the months ahead, you may see an occasional bee out for a brief “cleansing flight” if the weather allows. If your vehicle is parked nearby, or if you look on a light surface (lawn chair, sheets on the line), you may find small, telltale amber spots that they’ve “cleansed.” We beekeepers love that—it means they’re alive! Bees can hold their waste matter for weeks, but they do appreciate the opportunity to cleanse as they do NOT want to do so in their hive.
Lots of dead bees in the front: Over the weekend, we observed that many of our hives had small piles of dead bees (15-40) in the front. That amount was expected. Until now, the colony’s bees that died of natural causes likely perished in the field. Bees are in the hive practically full-time as winter approaches. Those dying from old age inside are carried out whenever the temperatures are warm enough for the bees to break their winter cluster, and thus—the piles of dead bees. With foliage having died down this time of year as well, dead bees are more apparent.
A couple of our hives though had probably too many dead bees—like two or more cups full. Depending upon your bee type, that may be normal. But often, it signifies something else, like a Varroa mite infestation. Bees’ lives are shortened by Varroa, and bees from the end-of-summer build-up may be dying prematurely. Remember, bees live about 40 days in the flying months, but live several months come winter—if conditions are right, (food, warmth, no diseases, and an occasional break in the weather for a cleansing flight). I suspect the hives with the cups of dead bees won’t make it through the winter, but there are only a few small things I can do about it now. They include:
- Scraping out dead bees from the bottom and the openings to ensure they have clean ventilation
- Open feeding when the weather allows so they’re not eating their critical winter stores
- Checking throughout the winter (if weather permits) to see if they need supplemental feeding
They still sting: We were stupidly delighted to see bees flying on Sunday, and we got a bit too close while witnessing all the activity. I think the bees were anxious to get out and relieve themselves, and were also hoping to find nectar, not giddy humans. After two stings though (luckily, Hubby, not me) we were quick to put on our veils!
Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for those of you keeping bees, bee-friending them, and making me part of your bee world.