Last Day to Feed the Bees

Tuesday, the 15th, was the last day to feed the bees, at least in this part of the Champlain Valley.  To ensure a sufficient supply of food to keep a colony healthy through the winter, a hive should weigh 160 or so pounds by now.  Most of that’s honey, but to top off a hive, beekeepers will feed the bees a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water.

Even at that density, the bees will need to use their wings to cure much of the water out of the syrup.  That’s why we stop feeding on 15 October, because while bees can keep the hive warm through the coldest Vermont winter, there can be no excess moisture, so stopping now will give the women (the males have been pushed out to die) time to cure their syrup before it gets too cold.

Or not.  Stopping syrup on 15 October is beekeeping by an old calendar.  I’m typing by the open window on a mild night.  We have not had a hard freeze in Burlington since March.  Seven months.  People hesitate to put out tomatoes before Memorial Day because we have freezes into late May, or used to.  We should have had a hard freeze by now.  The weather’s warm, I could probably feed for another week, if I needed to or it could turn cold any day, so I don’t take the chance.

Around this time last year, we had Mulch Mountain in the driveway – an overlarge delivery from a local tree service.  This year we have Mulch Molehill and, sad to say, it was our tree.  Our last sugar maple, a split trunk (never destined for long lives), we were afraid one trunk would snap and there goes Learys’ back porch, especially in the wet, wet days of spring, as the wind and water worked at it.

By the time the tree guys got here, it was the first week of September and it seemed a shame to cut it without one last autumn blaze.  We did though, one of those deals where you do the sensible thing and hate yourself for doing it.

Adrienne and I walked out the evening before and bade the tree goodbye.  We had the guys leave the twin trunks 12 feet high and will plant climbing roses on them.

The tree guys left the corpse at our request.  Friends with wood stoves took the bigger pieces; the small stuff was chipped into mulch and is gardens around the neighborhood.  It feels right to give the maple back to the soil from whence she sprung, keep her energy local.  The bees will miss her pollen, though.

An ancillary benefit of beekeeping, it gives you a view to the social life of the plants around you.  All the pollen flows were early this year by about three weeks.  Lucky we missed those late frosts, eh?  It was a prodigious year for honey, the second in a row.  Everything blossomed, fruit trees were laden.

That, however, is the other thing. When the autumn temperature drops, bees form a cluster for the winter.  They’ll concentrate on keeping the queen warm.  They expend less energy and eat less too.  When it doesn’t drop, they’ll keep flying, looking for pollen and nectar no longer available.  As long as it’s warm they’ll eat more but I dare not keep feeding.  Climate change, even at the level of the backyard beehive.

© Mark Floegel, 2013

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