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Signs of Life in February

It’s beginning to look like an open winter here in southern Rhode Island. Our heaviest snowfall was about four inches in November; since then it’s been relatively mild, with only a few sporadic and short periods of bitterly cold temperatures. We’re racing toward March with no signs of snow or severe cold in the ten-day forecast.

On February 5th, the temperature hit 49 degrees, and the bees were out for cleansing flights. Cooped up in the hives for weeks, bees take advantage of occasional mid-winter warm days to fly out and poop. These flights mitigate the build-up of nosemosis, or nosema disease, caused by microsporidian parasites. The parasites live in bee poop and can be ingested by the colony. Cleansing flights move the waste out of the hive, reducing the possibility of infection.

The next day was not quite as warm, but there was still plenty of activity. Bees were congregating around the pollen feeder that Tony had placed in the apiary in the Fall; we saw plenty of full sacs of pollen on bees headed back into the hives. There was a little light house-keeping going on, with undertaker bees pushing out the corpses of dead bees.

Bees at pollen feeder on warm February day

We still have a long way to go, and not all hives showed signs of activity. February can be treacherous here. But if the surviving colonies can make it another six weeks or so, and if they have adequate numbers, they’ll build up new bees quickly, requiring us to split them. That’s a great gift to the bee-keeper – to build two colonies out of one that was strong enough to make it through the winter. For now we watch them closely, and wait for the opportunity to feed them again on a slightly warmer day.

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