Of what is most present this time of year, two parts of my interior self hold separate yet overlapping views. My body is happy in this relatively mild winter season. Thus far, —and for as yet scientifically unknown reasons— the Arctic Oscillation is weak.
This is very different from the winter of 2009-2010 as well as December and January 2010-2111, when the oscillation was strong. Those were unrelentingly frigid times for the southern Appalachian mountains, and indeed much of the Turtle Island continent (North America) as well as the entire northern hemisphere.
When the Arctic Oscillation is strong, it forces the Jet Stream south. The jet stream is the prime highway for frontal systems that dominate our winter weather, rolling through on an average of every 7-8 days.
The further south the jet stream undulates, the farther south arctic high pressure frontal systems descend: this, in a nutshell, determines the severity or moderation of our winter experience.
Those living south of the jet stream enjoy much milder weather than those living north.
When the jet stream is north of Asheville, NC (home to Barefoot Permaculture Gardens, where I live), we can have a relatively mild climate experience, while nearby areas, (e.g. 60 miles north) under the influence of the northern section of the jet stream, are in blusteringly frigid conditions.
This winter’s weak oscillation, and the resultant higher latitudinal presence of the jet stream, has meant for us, a relatively pleasant weather pattern: 2 – 3 cold days (lows in the high 20’s) followed by 4-5 moderate days (highs in the upper 50’s to low 60’s Fahrenheit).
My body loves this relatively mild weather pattern. With some cold, I have the opportunity to wear my beloved wool garments (t-shirts, sweaters, and outer wear). The milder times allow me more gracious outdoor time: wondering, wandering and taking care of our landscape of orchard, gardens, chickens, bees and all.
At the same time, my ecologically aware self, (including the very same orchardist, gardener, and beekeeper) has concerns about this mild winter season’s prolonged warm temperatures’ effects upon the always precarious blooming time of the orchard, awakening of garden perennials, and activation of the hives.
The bees we started with 5 seasons past were of Russian descent. For the beekeeper, this means these bees have a propensity for grooming (which helps to control the veroa—and other— mites) and for economy of their winter honey use.
Over the seasons, we have had new queens and their mating flights involving other honeybee varieties, bringing other genetic traits into our current hives. Still, we think of them as natural Russian hybrids.
With so much warm weather, the bees are much more active; breaking winter cluster, flying, foraging for water, pollen, investigating opportunities for whatever the hive may desire.
This activity means more of the honey stores are consumed, and what would have been an adequate amount of honey to carry the hive through a more normal winter, is inadequate to meet their energy needs.
Nectar availability in winter is very low. Once a hive depletes its honey stores, it dies.
Although I observed — six days ago— a comforting amount of activity (comings and goings, including pollen) for all three hives, my wife (Chiwa) brought to my attention 2 days past, that our eastern hive showed very little activity. We looked again yesterday, and while the other 2 hives were active, we saw almost no bees coming and going from the eastern hive.
I immediately opened up the hive: the 62 degree weather (31st of January) allowed this winter intrusion. The top hive body was light, thus empty. Removing this upper body, I saw bees hanging out on top of the lower hive body’s top bars; indicating the hive was still alive, although most likely with diminished populations. I closed up the hive.
If there was any chance of saving this hive, immediate action was called for: feed the bees!
I mixed sugar to chamomile-infused water, at a 2:1 ratio, and added some last years’ raw honey, enough to fill 3 quart jars (with enough left over for another round of replenishment). Attaching these upturned jars onto entrance feeders, and inserting them partway into the hive entrance slots, I also reduced their entrance space, in hopes of averting “robbing”. I especially narrowed the eastern hive’s entrance to one bee space, due to their low numbers.
Stepping back and away, I felt an immediate sense of relief. Time will tell if we responded in time, and if the eastern hives’ queen is still alive with enough workers to repopulate and thrive.
That anyway, is my hope, wish, and prayer…