Bee Hive UpdatePosted By: John The Beekeeper Category: Bees
The Riverside bee hive - winter cluster
The Riverside bees are getting ready for winter. Now that colder weather is finally here, bees spend less time flying: it needs to be a good ten degrees to get a honeybee out of bed and besides, there’s little food about at this time of year and flying uses up precious reserves of food in the form of honey and pollen.
Honeybees are one of few species of insect which live as a colony throughout the year. In winter, they do not hibernate as such, but form a dense cluster with the queen at its centre. To raise the temperature within the hive, bees use a combination of vibrating their wing muscles to produce heat, as well as expanding or contracting the cluster. When the bees become too hot the cluster expands to increase the air flow around each bee, thereby reducing the core temperature. By contracting the cluster, air space is reduced in order to retain heat and increase the temperature – rather like snuggling down under your duvet on a cold night.
As you will imagine, this whole process burns energy and as winter progresses, food stocks run low. In spite of my best efforts to ensure that our bees have a good supply of food when winter approaches, it’s an anxious time. I have had colonies starve to death – a distressing sight, all the bees with their heads pushed deep inside the cells in search of the last dregs of honey. To assess the weight of remaining food stocks, I try the old bee keeper trick of ‘hefting’ hives – gently lifting each side in turn – but this is a very rule of thumb method and I generally resort to putting new food in the form of sugar fondant in each hive in early in January.
Seeing the first bees emerge in the sun on a warm day in January is always a heartening sight for a beekeeper – a sure sign that the colony has survived the winter.
John the Beekeeper