honey bee winter care

New season coming for bees

I get frequent questions about what the bees do in winter.

Three of my hives from outside during winter. I insulate them with black sleeves, made to order from Animal Plastics (I buy as local as I can, folks).

Honey bees don’t hibernate. They eat. They move around. They form a cluster that gets tighter with colder temperatures and looser with warmer temperatures. The queen is at the center, the warmest part of the cluster. Working concentrically, other bees vibrate and move from inside to outside or outside to inside. They take turns being part of the outer shell, the coldest part of the cluster. The bees vibrate and move from inside to outside the cluster. Randy Oliver over at Scientific Beekeeping has written about the cluster and its shell. I particularly like Figure 5 of this article with its temperature probe readings.

honey bee winter care
Bees in January, eating emergency sugar. I like to peek at them when we get warm, clear days.

In that same article, Figure 7 shows why I like to combine colonies in fall. I gave a “thinking about bees” class early this spring and a beekeeper came seeking technical assistance. I think he truly thought I was joking when I said that if I were him, I would have combined his two colonies to prepare for winter because it sounded like his winter deadout had a very small cluster. Here is another image I like:

Using an IR camera, we can see that the bees are clustered during cold temperatures

Seeing a visualization and considering the Oliver article, it makes sense to me to have large populations going into winter. It seems that many new bee keepers aren’t prepared to retain this information during their beginner class, so I’m pleased to have a Beekeeping 201 this upcoming season to help beeks get through their first winter or two.

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