Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The time between Thanksgiving and now has been a bit of a blur.  Of usually happy, but sometimes bleary, busyness.

I purchased two rolls of rather unusual wrapping paper from the Honey Exchange the day before Thanksgiving.  And had not found the time to use it since.

But yesterday, feeling the cold whipping through my down parka, I did.  I just wish I hadn't waited until the snow was as deep as my knees to get out there.

My children's wagon, used less these days to pull a short legged child about the street, or through an orchard, or to walk to meet Daddy's train, has been used for all sorts of new jobs lately.  I use it to help carry the heavy wet laundry to the line.  And to carry my beekeeping equipment down to the beeyard.  And to move the firewood from the stack to the back door of the house.  Though it says it is all terrain, clearly snowy terrain was not included in all.  And they don't seem to sell a sled runner adapter kit.  

So I stuffed my pockets with the tools I would need.  Put on my snow pants.  And mittens.  And a hat.  A very different kind of bee apparel is required in the winter.

All the birdhouses, and every roof we can see, are wearing hats, and dangly earrings (or icicles). 

As I rounded the corner of the bee yard, I saw how much snow had fallen on the hives the other day since I was last out here.  Two snow storms ago.

I intentionally had chosen a dark color to paint the hives, as was recommended to me, so that I would not have to wrap them as so many beekeepers do here in Maine -- especially if their hives are painted a lighter color.  Some say black tar paper maximizes solar gain and heat absorption.  And some seem to feel it helps with the drafts.  

Having felt the strong winds blowing through our very walls here in the past few days, I was feeling like the hives could benefit from a bit of supplemental draft care.  But first, the sun out and the wind not blowing, I decided to take a look at what I could observe that might tell me something about how my bees were faring.  

The first thing I noticed were several dead bees, in front of one of the hives, in the snow.

And some dead bees just outside the bottom entrance.

When I was last out here, it had been a warm day.  Well, warm for December in Maine.  And I had pulled out the bottom board and found a lovely circle of flakey light colored debris, about six inches in diameter.  I did not have my camera with me that day, or I would show you a picture.  It looks like what they tell you the debris from a colony in a small cluster would look like.

At the state beekeeping conference in November, I had heard a woman talking at my table about how she had monitored her colonies last winter, that you could listen to the hive boxes with a stethoscope and hear where they were in the boxes as they moved about over time, moving toward honey supplies.  I was curious if I would be able to see the debris indicating where their activity was when I returned a few days later, and whether it would have moved a bit.  And so, I went around to the backside of the hives.

And took a quick look.

The light colored flakes are cappings from honey, so they are eating.

And the darker colored flakes are from emerging brood. So they are raising brood.  So far.

Today, there was debris again, and in a central area, though not in the definitive pile that I had found last time, likely because only a few days had passed since I last cleaned the bottom boards.

I took a quick peek at the bottom screen.  More dead bees, but I don't think too many.

So I closed her right back up again.

I hefted each hive.  As my teachers had told me to.  They felt heavy.  A good sign, that there are still stores of honey in there.

Now for the wrapping.

The last time I wrapped something in tar paper was when, each fall, my family would head up to our camp and wrap tar paper around the bottom edge of the building which was supported by cedar posts and sat up off the ground.  My grandfather believed this helped protect the camp, and kept the earth beneath it from freezing as hard and thereby shifting and disrupting the level and support of the camp.

I remember those rolls of tar paper.  And the very dangerous rusty nails that stuck out of the pieces of wood, nails he would save and hammer into the top edge of the tar paper.  We had an annual joke about whether our tetanus shots were up to date.  I think it was this task that gave me the most practice with a hammer.  I also remember that there were rather complicated and well marked directions about what piece of tar paper and what nail shim went where, fitting around the camp like a puzzle.

I know this makes me lazy, and probably seems a bit pathetic to some, but I thoroughly enjoyed the precut rolls of tar paper that we purchased from Phil at the Honey Exchange.  Because once out there in the bee yard in the snow, with mittens, a camera, a hammer, and a box of brads?  Alone with only one set of hands?  There was no way I would have been able to measure and cut or even carry out there a full roll of tar paper.  So thank you Phil, for your perfectly sized tar paper pieces.

Ok, so it wasn't until the second hive that I figured out how to get a snug fit, by nailing one end, pulling it around the box, and then attaching the other end.

Don't worry.  I went back and redid the first one more snuggly.

Oops.  I planted some brad seeds for next year.  Don't be surprised if there are nail bushes blossoming in my photos come Spring.  

Strangely, while I was working, a few bees came out of the entrance and promptly died in the cold.  It likely had something to do with the hammering, and occasional muttering and ouching going on outside.

But it was sad to watch them do this to themselves.

So I decided it was time for me to go, before I caused more death.  So I cleaned up my tools and headed out.  

Walking away, entrances cleared, wrapped snuggly and tidily, I felt that -- though a bit late -- I had done another thing that might help them get through the winter.

Later in the day, the kids and I headed over to see Phil to take care of important business.  To sign up for a sophomore beekeeping class in January for me.  And to purchase our teacher gifts for the kids.  

Jonathan wrapped it up with his characteristic flourish.  Which looked nothing like the wrapping I had done earlier in the day.

Over the next few days, we will be finishing our holiday preparations and having much time with family, friends and with just us.  And hopefully a good deal of snow and ice to play on.  Bundled and layered and well fed, so we can enjoy it.

Wishing you all a peaceful and Merry Everything as you get it all wrapped up, so you can enjoy the time together.

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