Growing up in a beach neighborhood, all the cottages and houses had porches. The place to gather as a family or with neighbors – the “social media” of the day! Most of the houses were built before the 1920’s and had gas heat and lights, no electricity, and no AC. Electricity came later, my house had the gas pipes through every room for the lights. Thus, the porch or beach was the place to be for the rare times a 90-degree day would show up. It was also the storage place for winter clothes for the yearlong residents such as myself.
Bees have porches also, AKA the bottom board or landing board. A lot can be learned from observing the porch activities. The volume of bees can give an indication of nectar flow and when it’s time to add supers. The sudden change to incoming pollen could mean a lot of brood and an impending swarm. Bees fighting would signify robbing. These are warm-weather activities, what about winter?
In the winter, there can be a lack of activity for weeks or even months, and the porch is still the place to look for life’s activity. On a sunny day, the temperature may rise to the low 40’s, your bees may start checking out the entrance to see if it’s warm enough to fly. First, it might be just a quick peek, or a fast walkabout on the porch. If the temperature continues to rise, you’ll see bees take flight. These first flights will be removing bodily wastes and if it’s borderline flying temperature, yellow spots or streaks could show up on the porch or on the front of the hives. If the bees started raising brood, flights could start in the upper thirties to fetch water for brood food.
Even in winter bee life continues, such as cleaning the hive of debris. On flying days, the trash will be flown off, but in cool weather, it might be pushed off the porch. On cold days garbage might make it as far as just outside the door, and a small pile of dead bees will sit on the porch. When I see a pile of dead bees, I sweep them off, and if they show up again, I know somebody put them there. A sign the hive is/was alive since the last time I checked and removed the dead bees.
While walking through the snow, approaching the hive, look at the porch for stuff! A blade of grass, fluff, or maybe some bits of wood. Focus on the entrance, does it look like it’s been chewed? Mice may be trying to move in. Mice will enlarge the entrance, thus explaining the bits of wood or blades of grass that didn’t quite make it in yet for nest building. What about fluff??? While putting a new roof on in the beach neighborhood I found a couple of mouse nests made with this greenish insulation. Then it dawned on me, being a dog person why I would always find bald tennis balls in the yard.
Since I mentioned mice, I need to mention shrews. A hive can survive mice, chances are low but they are almost doomed with a shrew! Shrews eat bees and you may notice bee parts on the porch, or maybe not. I once found a hive with the bottom covered with decapitated bees and nothing on the porch. Shrews are smaller than mice and a mouse guard may not stop them!
Michael R. Lund
Read this for more information about pygmy shrews.