Take a stroll during this late-winter warm weather and you may notice signs the natural world is already flirting with spring. The spring peepers are calling, the bats are flying, and the daffodils are blooming. Here at the Nature Center, the bees have been very busy collecting pollen this week. This means it’s time for an important seasonal ritual – spring cleaning.
Dave Maloney, member of the Frederick County Beekeeping Association, maintains the observation hive located within the nature center, a favorite of visitors young and old. He stopped by last week to clean out the hive and help the bees prepare for spring.
First Dave and Jackie, a part-time naturalist at the park, brought the hive outside. Rags were carefully stuck inside the entrances to the hive to prevent bees from escaping into the nature center during the move.
Dave: This hive has three levels. The top level has two frames of comb and one frame (the closest) with only a starter strip in the frame. The bees have started to draw comb on that starter strip and are calmly clustering on it now.
Dave: We found all frames of comb completely empty of stores. No honey. No nectar. No pollen. This did not surprise us since we have been monitoring it closely and knew it was out of stores. But we had to wait to for a nice day to fix that deficiency. So, we wanted to clean out all the dead bees as well as add some frames of stores.
Dave used a smoker through the ventilation holes to gently calm the bees. Then we delicately opened the hive, placing a burlap sack over the opening to protect young and still developing bees from the elements.
Dave then brushed out the dead bees lying on the bottom of the hive. To have these dead bees is completely normal this time of year. Unlike other insects, honey bees do not die off or hibernate in the fall – instead, they remain active all winter. The queen breeds a special type of “winter bee” late in the summer. These bees are different than their summer counterparts. They have fatter bodies, which they rely on for nourishment during colder months when they cannot forage for food. They also live four to six months, whereas summer bees only live about forty-five days. A winter bee’s sole job is to make sure the colony survives until spring, clustering around the queen and vibrating to keep her warm.
Dave: Here is the hive after we cleaned out the bees and also replaced a couple of the frames of comb (which were empty and dry as a bone) with frames packed with honey as well as pollen.
The observation hive is once again installed in the Nature Center. You can visit the bees during our normal weekend hours, when you can watch foraging bees fly in with sacs of pollen. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the queen (she’s the large bee with the blue dot on her back)!
Thanks to Dave Maloney for his attentive care of our hive, and for taking these great photos!