Someone recently asked “What do beekeepers do for bees in the winter?” Paul and I answered in unplanned chorus “PRAY!” During winter, honeybees tightly cluster themselves to maintain warmth. They hold up in their hives feeding on honey stores, biding their time until pollen starts to reappear. (Which in our area of NC is in February when maples bloom). We do as much as we can in the fall to reduce mite levels, bolster food stores, and arrange hive components but in the end it’s on the bees to pull it through. And it’s not easy. Last year in the US beekeepers, on average, lost 42% of their colonies. 42%. We contributed to that number.
So now in November, it’s time to put the bees to bed for winter. One of our bedtime rituals is to provide a last minute snack. And what does everyone want before bed? Dessert! Grease patties are served.
Today I whipped up a batch of today’s special … the pollinator peppermint patty. It’s a combination of palm oil, sugar, & peppermint oil blended and shaped into an aromatic lump. Spaghetti mistook it for frosting and tried some before I caught him. He said it wasn’t too bad, just a little gritty. This snack benefits the bees two-fold; the peppermint vapors irritate any hitchhiking varroa mites and dislodge microscopic tracheal mites as the bees feast on the sugar. Really – bees get mites in their trachae. Gross – tiny gross.
In addition to the gritty grease patties, I add an MRE of raw granulated sugar on newspaper. These emergency rations could sustain the hive if they run short of stored food. Starvation is enemy #1. But moisture is a close 2nd. Bees can handle the cold (they successfully winter as far north as Alaska) but as any hiker knows, cold + wet = dead. So the dry sugar absorbs deadly moisture in the hive. Lastly we top the hive with an absorbent blanket of shavings to catch condensation under the lid.
We’re hopeful these measures will offer some cold weather insurance. Chores done, bees tucked in, we’ll all be ready for the holiday carb fest. And this year I am thankful for them. Eat up bees!