Winter is a nervous time for me as a beekeeper.
The bees are doing their version of hibernation, which means they’re all huddled together inside their beehive, keeping warm and eating up their honey and pollen stores, waiting for spring (with its warmth and flowers) to come.
There are lots of things that can go wrong. They can run out of honey, and starve. They can have plenty of honey, but too far away from their cluster, and starve. They can have too much honey in the space they should be clustering, keeping them too far apart from each other, and freeze. They can be tricked into being active on too many unseasonably warm days, thereby using more energy and going through their food stores faster, and starve. They can be unable to keep the hive warm enough on too many extremely cold days, and freeze. They can get too much moisture trapped in the hive, and freeze. Or maybe the level of disease or mites can be too high or the number of bees can be too low, and they won’t make it to the spring. Even beekeepers who know what their doing and have been doing it for years can have heavy losses over the winter.
Part of what makes it hard is there is very little to be done once winter has arrived, except sitting on my hands and waiting. In the fall, I could check my hive and make sure it had a thriving population, a laying queen, and plenty of honey stores. I could make sure there are ways for moist air to exit the hive, keeping the air drier inside. I could put up a windblock (that black fencing in the picture) to keep the icy wind from assaulting the hive all winter long. But now, I just wait.
Except being really bad at waiting, I go check on my hive all the time. I can’t open it up to see the bees inside; that would certainly tip the balance toward icy death. But I can press my ear up to the outside, and listen for the faint humming that means I’ve still got buzzing bees alive inside.