Yesterday we visited our hive “McGill 1”, located on the roof of the library building at McGill University, to remove the winter insulation. As soon as we opened the door to the roof and walked around to the hives, we were greeted with a happy surprise. Prior to yesterday, the health of “McGill 1” was questionable because of how calm the hive was at the time it was audio checked a few weeks ago. We were concerned we might find a hive with large casualties, in need of extra syrup until the blooms arrive. To our delight, the hive was very active with bees flying in and out (and clearing little bee bodies) by the small entranceway.
With the knowledge that the bees were out and active, we assembled our newly washed (bleached) suits. The newest beekeepers (me) wore full protection. That being said, I was very aware that my hood had a finger sized hole in it, which shook my confidence a bit in approaching the bees. The experienced bee keepers wore the gear according to their preferences, opting not to don the full pants of the suit or gloves since it was a balmy 15C.
With gear on, we approached the hives and removed the wrapping. The insulation we used is good for two years, this being the second year. Since we knew the hive was active, unwrapping the insulation was a lot like unwrapping a Christmas gift all together. After the insulation was removed, the supers were visible. The top super was full of hay to add airy insulation which helped with the moisture control of the hive.
We removed the super full of hay, and left the two bottom supers where the clean and the brood live. The only thing left to do was to insert a tray at the bottom of the hive in order to collect mites and parasites. We will go back later to count the number and assess the amount of treatment (if any) required for the hive. We will also add a super full of drone frames in order to have drone eggs laid, which will contain most of the varroa parasite. We then take these frames and put them in the freezer in order to kill the mites. This kills the drones (male bees) also, but these males are not required to fertilize the queen or work in the colony.
For the entire season the hive will keep two supers for the laying of eggs and housing of the queen. Later, we will add a queen extruder and honey supers so that baby bees are not hatching near the honey we plan to harvest.
Before leaving, we placed a tilted roof on the top of our hive, for ventilation. We took a few minutes to watch the baby bees which were born during the winter make a “map” with relation to the hive. The new bees do this by exiting the hive and then hovering at certain distances away from the hive in order to learn to assess distances.
Unfortunately “McGill 2” and our hive at the Santropol Roulant did not survive the winter. We also had two hives stored on one of the beekeepers farm that didn’t survive this particularly difficult winter. The next step will be to unwrap the hive “McGill 3” on Monday, and the remaining hive at Santropol. We will also perform quick post-mortems to understand if our hives died due to lack of food or parasite infections.
So in summary from our 6 hives, we have 2 left. The good news is at least one of these appears healthy enough to maybe be split early in the season!