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Bee poop and muffled buzzing

Winter is a nerve-wracking time for beekeepers. We do what we can throughout the summer and fall to make sure the bees store up enough food and are in good health as the weather cools. But once the temperature drops below 50 degrees, we need to keep the hive closed and there’s not much meddling we can do. The first week of february marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, celebrated with events such as groundhog day and imbolc. It’s been over two months since I opened the hives, and might be two more before it’s warm enough to really look inside again without harming the bees. When the snow melts, what I can see is bees that have died and been tossed out of the hives – always a saddening sight, and harder when you can’t see the live bees inside.


Thankfully, today I had two indicators that both our hives are still alive and well. The first you can see in the photo – little brown spots on the front and top of the hive. This is bee poop, and it’s a good sign because healthy bees keep their hive clean, and don’t go to the bathroom in the hive, even in the winter. Instead, they wait for a sunny, warmer day and fly outside the hive to relieve themselves in the air. The bits that landed on the hive are an indication that the bees are strong enough to come outside.


The second (and more gratifying) way I check on the bees is to put my ear very close to the hive, and gently knock. Healthy bees respond with a slight buzzing sound as they are aroused by the vibration of my knocking. Without a stethoscope, it’s not always possible to hear them, and last time I checked – a few weeks ago – I couldn’t detect a noise from Georgia, our langstroth hive. But today I heard a healthy response from both our hives, and a bee from Flora (our top bar hive) even ventured out to say hello. The next few months will be the most challenging, as the bees can easily run out of honey before spring flowers offer new nectar, but my heart is lighter knowing both colonies have made it this far.


Want to learn more about bees? Join us for Beekeeping I: Bee Basics on April 10.