Saturday, February 1, 2014

Winter Beehives

When is it warm enough for bees to fly in the winter?  If they have been really cooped up for a long time (as these girls have for several weeks), 45 degrees is plenty warm enough to come out for a quick stretch and bathroom break.  Especially if it is sunny and not windy.

 I have 4 hives, overwintering either with 3 or 4 hive bodies/supers.  I usually overwinter in 3, but I left some extra honey on this year.  The boxes that compose the hives are referred to as either supers (filled with comb holding honey) or hive bodies (generally the lower boxes on the hives full of comb holding brood and some food stores).  In winter there is no brood in the boxes, only frames of comb, holding honey and pollen, and empty comb space for the bees to cluster together and stay warm.  Often bees overwinter in 2 "deeps", but I run all "mediums" so I leave more boxes total since mediums are smaller than deeps and hold less honey.

Winter preparation starts in late summer and fall, making sure the bees have strong numbers, enough food and are not carrying a heavy mite load (varroa mite) or suffering from disease.  Bees in winter are balled up inside the hives, hopefully close enough to honey that they can reach it to eat it, and rotating so no bee is on the cold outside of the cluster for too long.  This is why strong hives are important going into winter; you need the cluster to be big enough to keep itself warm.  I leave at least 100 lbs of honey on each hive.  And even then, sometimes I have to feed some extra sugar candy this time of year, because it is so cold, the cluster can't move a few inches over to reach honey that is still there.

Also in the fall, mouse guards go on.  You can see one in the picture below, a piece of metal with holes large enough for bees but too small for rodents.  This keeps out any curious mousies in the fall who think the bottom of a beehive might be a perfect place to nest up for the winter, eating and pooping merrily throughout the hive.  The blue tarp is in place loosely around the bottom of the hive to block winter windy blusters from blowing up into the hive, but still allowing airflow into the screened bottom board of the hive.

Ok, ready for the craziest thing about winter bees?  Spring and summer worker bees only live about 6 weeks, working so hard they just peter out and are replaced by new baby bees.  In winter, there are no baby bees being born, and no back-breaking work of gathering nectar, so winter bees live at least 4 months, maintaining the cluster and keeping the hive alive through the winter.  They are working less I suppose but shivering away in the hive all winter long still seems like work not play if you ask me!  They never cease to amaze me.

45 degrees and sunny - time to come out and poop!

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