Snow, Hefting and St. Valentine
This post has been stressing me out... As regular readers will know, I have set myself the New Year's resolution of writing a blog post every week for an entire year. Last year I succeeded in composting all my food waste for a year so I felt like an NYR master. I thought if I just use this blog as an orchard diary and type up what I had been doing that week I'd always have something to write about (hopefully this wont get too boring). As I am always going up there I'd always have content... What I didn't account for is the snowiest, iciest weather in 65 years. No driving to the orchard for Blake and no bird seed for the birds.
Now someone I know from work told me that this cold weather is directly related to the reduction in fumes across the world due to the various covid lockdowns. If this is true (please can the scientists get in touch and point me in the right direction if it is not) then it shows what a difference a year can make to our environment and how a collective push in the right direction might really help with the ongoing climate crisis we are facing. Something to chew on...
I did have plans to blog about hefting as apart from tirelessly researching bees, making plans and watching zoom talks about bees I have been going up to the orchard once a week or so and hefting the hive.
What is Hefting?
Hefting is the art of predicting the weight of your bees by using the power of muscle memory. Why would you want to do that? Well the conscientious beekeeper needs to heft in the Winter months because this is a way of predicting the amount of food stores the bees have (without ripping off the roof and poking around inside (bad idea when it is cold outside - how would you like it?)). If they are very heavy - good. If they are very light - bad. How is Hefting carried out? It's easy really, all you do is go round to the back of your hive and with one hand on the bottom edge of the box try and lift the edge up. This is where muscle memory is needed. What I recommend is doing your first heft after feeding in early September. The hive should feel like it is screwed down and it will take considerable force to lift that edge up. If you do this regularly every couple of weeks or so you will over time start to notice the difference in weight as the bees consume the food and the amount of bees start to dwindle over the winter. The critical time for this is in February and March. If you fed well in Autumn the bees will have plenty in their larder until then but when early spring/end of winter comes around there is a chance they will be running low... This is partly because they have been stuck in for months and slowly munching away but also the queen will have started laying eggs making preparations for the new year and this will increase the amount of food that is needed. What if the Heft is light? Simple answer is to feed them. I use baker's fondant from my friendly neighbourhood baker. In fact, a lot of beekeepers traditional feed their bees a nice big block of fondant on New Years Day even if they heft heavy. As a precaution for the challenging months ahead. How do I feed without disturbing the bees? My preferred method is to lay a chunk of fondant (2-3kg) on top of the holes in the crown board and cover it in the blue plastic it comes in. I then put the roof on top of that (with an extra eke and insulated with 50mm Celotex for good measure).
So this week I was unable to heft but I am fairly confident that my bees had enough food. Let's just hope the cold weather didn't stop them going up to the food in the attic if they needed it.
If you can get out to heft your hives during wintry weather another good thing to do is check that entrances are clear. Sometimes in snowy conditions the snow can drift and completely bury the entrances. The bees probably wont be flying if it is cold enough to snow but you don't want them to be stuck in on a day where it is sunny and warming up inside and they can't ventilate properly (condensation can be a problem). My hives floors are made from a mesh (which has several benefits) so i don't think ventilation is a problem in this case. Thank you Tom the Farmer for helping me check mine (they were all clear btw). You might also want to check that a build up of dead winter bees at the entrance hasn't blocked their front door. It's easy enough to just get down to the level of the entrance and look to see if it is clear. If you see a build up of dead bees that haven't been removed you can get a small stick or piece of bent wire and just scrape them out.