What do bees do when it’s cold? They aren’t buzzing in and out of the hive entrance like they do on hot days. The aren’t foraging on flowers, because options are next to none. Their little homes look quite uneventful.
However, these little buzzers are still alive and well (if, of course, their varroa mite counts are low and you left them plenty of honey, and good ventilation). Bees in the winter are not “hibernating” like bears and other mammals. Rather, they go into a more dormant phase where they cluster into a tight ball within their square home divided up by frames. The worker bees cluster around the remaining brood (baby bees) and the queen to keep them alive. They create heat by buzzing their little bodies. A hive will maintain an internal temperature of about 93 degrees F within their cluster even when it is negative temperatures outside.
Bees will live on average about 40 days during the spring, summer, and fall when they are working like mad – taking care of tons of brood, foraging among the various nectar and pollen sources, building wax, etc. Bees are busy during those months and they literally work themselves to death. Not a good example to follow. However, in the dead of winter, bees will live much longer. The queen drastically reduces the amount of eggs she lays in late fall and early winter, but then picks up again in late winter to provide a larger amount of bees for foraging in spring.
It may seem that not a lot is going on inside your quiet little hive boxes in the winter, but life is happening! The best ways to ensure they are going to survive during this time is:
1 – Low Varroa mite counts going into fall. Smart beekeepers do mite counts continually but ensure that treatment is provided if counts are too high heading into fall. Mite counts (and inspections in general) should only be done when the weather is consistently above 60 degrees to avoid breaking apart the winter “cluster”.
2 – Enough food stores were left for the bees. Harvest honey by all means, but ensure that you leave about eight deep frames packed full of honey for them to survive. Feed them with a heavy sugar syrup (in warmer weather) or candy boards (in colder weather) to supplement if needed.
3 – Provide ventilation to allow the hot air that rises from the cluster to escape and not condense or rain back onto your bees who are trying to stay warm and dry.
Love your bees by showing them these three acts of kindness, and you will likely do just fine!
Click here to watch a video to plan for what you should be doing in January and February.
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!