Tag Archives: wintering bees

Signs of Life? Or Not.

We were blessed with a beautiful spring day here in Minnesota with temperatures reaching into the 50’s.  Finally!

It was a gorgeous day to get outside and start checking for signs of life around the farm.

Since the snow finally started melting, Jesse decided to make his way out to the beehives to check on them.  After 50 plus days this winter of high temperatures not even reaching zero degrees Fahrenheit, our expectations were very low about the likelihood that our bees survived.  When our bee supplier called in January, we decided to play it safe and order two more nucs of bees to install this spring to make sure we were not left without any bees.  As it turns out, we made the right decision!


We knew it was a bad sign this afternoon when Jesse pulled the covers off the hives and we saw the carnage of dead bees on the inside hive cover.  There was also an eerie silence that was a tell-tale sign that the bees had not survived.  It was the same scene when he opened the second hive.

No survivors. No signs of life.

We will start fresh with new bees this spring.  Again.


Our snow cover was melting quickly today with the warm temperatures.  The turned soil is starting to reveal itself in the plowed field next to our house.  The neighbor planted a bean crop last summer and plans to re-seed an alfalfa crop this spring.  This will delight our new bees.

3Wherever we wander on the farm, including out to the bees,we can always count on Sofie being somewhere close by.  She is a constant sign of life on the farm, even in the bleakest of times.  Dogs are such comforting companions.

4After visiting the bees, I trudged through the heaps of piled snow to get to the edge of my vegetable garden to take a picture.  With a solid foot of snow remaining within the perimeter, there is sadly no sign of life here.  It is hard to imagine that in a few short months this will be green and brimming with new growth and possibilities.

The warm temperatures today did manage to stir awake the juices of the maple trees.  We ventured in to the woods and discovered the first signs of the sap running.  Although it was not a very productive day (only about 1 gallon), it is a start.

6And after this long winter, I will celebrate any sign of life that reveals itself around here!

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Filed under Animals, Bees, Daily life, Maple Syrup

March Madness

The strange winter continues here in Minnesota…

On February 29th, only two and a half weeks ago, this is what it looked like outside our window.


The snow started during the night and by morning, we had almost a foot of heavy, wet snow.  School was cancelled and we were officially all “snowed in.”  It was the first snow day of the school year and nobody was complaining around here about staying home.

March rolled in the next day and as quick as it had arrived, all that snow started to melt away.  The temperatures soared and before too long, there was no trace of snow left.

When the temperatures started hitting the upper 60’s and 70’s several days in a row, we started to notice some interesting things happening around the farm.

We checked the bee hives and were happy to see that they are definitely still alive.   This good news means that we have successfully wintered our bees for the first time!  (Most likely due to the warm winter temperatures we have had, rather than our beekeeping skills).

We also noticed the bees were out foraging.  They seemed to like the sap leaking out of the maple trees that we pruned in late February.

Since they are active so early this year and there is little food supply available yet, Jesse decided to start feeding them some sugar syrup to get them through the next month or so.  He also took off the black winter hive covers because of the warm temperatures – we don’t want them to cook in there!  The hives both seem really strong, so we are excited to see how this season turns out.

After a week of continuous March temperatures near or over 70F, we also noticed that my gardens are starting to wake up and spring to life.  These poppies were hiding under the leaf mulch.

My tulips have also decided it is time to make an early appearance.

With our warm weekend temperatures (more 70’s), we spent most of our time outdoors and in the gardens.  Although we realize it is very early in the season by Minnesota standards, we started the process of cleaning up the raspberry patch anyways.

After digging up all the rogue plants to reduce the rows back down to about 12″ wide, we cut our all the old canes and re-strung the wire that holds the plants upright.

We then trimmed all the remaining canes to about chest height, applied a 10-10-10 fertilizer, and lightly tilled along the sides of the rows.  When we get around to it (hopefully within a week or two), we will put down a chopped straw mulch to try controlling weeds.

Since the frost was already out and the soil was so dry (we have had very little snow this winter), Jesse went ahead and tilled the whole garden up.  We like to work it up several times in the spring if possible, before we do the bulk of our planting.

And finally, the last crazy thing we did on this 18th day of March here in Minnesota, was to plant some lettuce (mild mesculun mix) and spinach.  These crops can handle some colder temperatures, so even though I know better, I am taking a risk and giving it a try.

(Last spring, my first planting of lettuce was on May 7th, after a very cold and wet spring.)

So, the madness of this Minnesota winter continues into March.  I’m hoping we have seen the last of snow, but after living here my entire life, I know that just about anything can happen yet this spring.

But whatever happens, I’ll be ready.  I couldn’t be happier to be back out in the gardens.

Hope you are enjoying some March madness wherever you are too!


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Filed under Bees, Flower, Gardens, Vegetable

Waiting for Winter

The weather has treated us pretty well here in Minnesota during the month of November and into early December.  No significant snow has fallen in our neck of the woods and while the temperatures have been cold at times, they have been tolerable by Minnesota standards.  With Christmas only a few weeks away, we are now anxiously waiting for winter to arrive.

In preparation for winter, we have the farm all buttoned up and ready for the snow.

The vegetable garden is tilled and ready for spring planting.

We are going to attempt to winter our bees again this year.  The hives have their black cardboard covers on to help absorb some of those rays from the sun.  We have failed the last two years and have hopefully learned a few things along the way.  We are hoping they make it to spring!

Each fall we put white plastic protectors on the young trees that line our driveway.  Our main reason for doing so is to protect the tender bark from the deer that like to rub their antlers on them in the fall.

Although we have managed to deter the deer from our trees, this year they targeted my little lilac bushes that I planted two years ago.

The deer systematically went down the row and stripped the bark and in many cases, broke off the lilac.  They spared a few of the plants, but most will need replacing in the spring.

We have talked about putting up a flag pole for several years, but just never get around to doing it.  With our oldest leaving for West Point at the end of June, we decided to finally tackle this project before the ground froze.  Knowing that we would be putting up a flag pole, we picked up a West Point flag on our trip out to visit in August.  We realize that we are not entirely following proper flag etiquette by not having the U.S. flag larger, but we do it anyhow, justifying it to ourselves because our intentions are good.

We located the flag pole so that we can easily look out the kitchen window and  see the flags flapping in the wind.

My perennial gardens have also been trimmed up and put to sleep for winter.

The wood pile behind the house has been replenished and is ready to supply our fireplace all winter long.  There is nothing quite like a roaring wood fire on a subzero day in Minnesota to warm your home and heart.

And with everything ready for winter around here, now all we can do is just wait.  For those of you who need to prepare for winter in your part of the country, I wish you good luck!



Filed under Daily life

Bee Students

Saturday we attended a course entitled “Beekeeping in Northern Climates” at the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Marla Spivak and scientist Gary Reuter from the Department of Entomology taught the course.  There were about 160 people in attendance (the interest in beekeeping has dramatically spiked in recent years).  It was a very informative course and we came away feeling like we learned several ways to improve our beekeeping this year.  Below are a few of the highlights.

Wintering Bees

After the loss of our first bee colony last winter (described here), some of the most pertinent information for us was on successfully wintering a hive in our cold Minnesota climate.  The first tip that we learned was that a larger bee population would increase the odds of the colony to survive through the winter. Wintering with 2 brood chambers in Minnesota is possible, but the UofMn recommends the use of 3 brood chambers to increase the colony population and honey stores. We will definitely increase from 2 to 3 brood chambers to improve our odds next winter.

Bottom two boxes are the larger brood chambers, and the smaller boxes are honey supers. We will have them fill three brood chambers before we add honey supers this year..

Jesse believes that moisture build-up due to insufficient ventilation was the primary cause of the colony failure this winter. The dead bees were black and wet when we opened the hive in February. There were also honey stores still remaining in the hive. We learned that the UofMn recommends drilling a 1 inch diameter hole 3 inches from the bottom edge of the hive body. The hole is normally plugged, but in the winter the hole in the top brood chamber should be left open for ventilation. Another recommended practice is to place a piece of “buffalo board” over the inner cover to help draw the moisture out of the hive, and one flap of the hive protector should be tucked along the hive to create more space for air flow.

Disease and Pest Control

It was very interesting and refreshing to learn that the UofMn is promoting that beekeepers move away from using chemicals and antibiotics in their operations, except as a last resort. Dr. Spivak believes that over-treatment of the bees has led to poor natural resistance and the bacteria, viruses, and pests have become resistant to these treatments. For example, Terramycin is a common antibiotic that research has shown is becoming ineffective at treating American Foulbrood (AFB). Instead, the UofMn is advocating that better results can be achieved by improved management techniques and using bees bred to exhibit hygienic behavior.

Some of the management techniques we will follow after attending this class are: (1) replacing brood combs every 5 years; (2) shake, requeen, and burn comb if AFB is detected;  (3) order MN hygienic queens next year; (4) use the 2 hive horizontal rotating method to keep our colonies strong and young queens; and (5) buy Varroa mite traps for our hives to improve colony health.

Our bee supplier called today to tell us our packages of bees will be arriving some time this week.  After attending this class, we are even more excited to start our second season of beekeeping!

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