The bees in winter
Even though I don't think of them in quite the same way as I do my shovel, pitchfork, and hoe, my honey bees are one of my most important gardening tools. Really, they're the most important since they pollinate the heck out of my berry brambles, veggies, perennial herbs, and flowers -- not to mention everyone else's within a three-mile radius. (In fact, I suspect they were responsible for the unholy union of Fortna white pumpkin and yellow squash which sprang up next to the compost heap this year, but I digress. . .)
Just as I have cleaned up my hand trowels and rakes, I've also had to ready my honey bees for winter. That means fitting their hive entrance with what I like to call the "winter door" -- perfect for keeping mice from trying to hole up inside the hive during cold weather. I also must make sure that my girls have plenty of honey stores to see them through until spring. Typically, I take just a few pounds of honey from my hives each year, since a single teaspoon's worth of honey is the equivalent of one honeybee's life's work! Besides that, I don't want to make things any harder for the bees than they already are. In general, they've have had to contend with an overall loss of habitat and forage and the onslaught of pesticides, parasitic mites, Colony Collapse Disorder, and more.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered my bees' winter stores were already quite low. It could've been last-minute robber bees. Or the drought we experienced this summer may have reduced the nectar flow enough to be part of the problem. What's more, I think my bees might have replaced the really fancy queen I installed a couple years ago with someone new and, perhaps, less competent. Whatever the reason for the deficiency, it means I'll have my work cut for me this winter. Unlike that silly Bee Movie's greedy, smoker-toting honey thieves, real-life beekeepers have been known to offer any very weak colonies sugar syrup to help get them through the winter. That's just what I'll be doing this year. Let's hope they make it.
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