Page 25 - Southington Magazine Holiday 2020 Issue 42
P. 25

 How Bees Survive Winter
  I am often asked what happens to bees in win- ter. Do they hibernate; do they die, or perhaps fly south? Well, bees do not hibernate or migrate and every beekeeper hopes their hives make it alive through winter. In reality, bees remain ac- tive all winter long. The social world of honeybees is divided into three castes: workers, drones and queens. However, in winter the males die off or are driven from the hive, leaving only the female workers and the queen.
When the temperature falls below 50°F bees retreat to their hive and crowd tightly together to form a winter cluster. This cluster of bees can be the size of a basketball.
physiologically different from summer bees. They are a bit more plump, to help keep the heat; and they have a longer lifespan to last the whole win- ter. While summer bees live about six weeks, win- ter bees will live four to six months. On warmer winter days, the bees will venture out of the hive for short flights to relieve themselves. We call these cleansing flights. So you see, the life of a winter bee is much different from that of a sum- mer bee. In the dead of winter, when the tem- perature drops below zero, I like to walk to the bee yard and put my ear against the side of the
In the cluster, the bees rapidly flex their wing muscles in what would mimic shivering in humans. By doing so, honey- bees generate their own heat source. In the cen- ter of the cluster, the temperature is maintained around 80°F and this is where you’ll find the queen. On the surface, or mantle of the cluster, the temperature fluctuates around 46°F to 50°F. The bees will rotate from the mantle to the center and back to the mantle much like penguins do to sur- vive the cold. For energy, the cluster moves about the hive consuming honey. It’s important for bee- keepers to leave enough honey so the hive does
not starve; generally 30 to 40 pounds of honey. These winter bees are born in late fall and are
hive. The low hum of the bees vibrating in a cluster tells me everything is fine.
To prepare the bees for winter, a beekeeper will downsize the hive to just a few boxes so it’s less for the bees to heat. We then wrap the hives in tar paper to keep the bees dry. While the bees can manage the cold, they must stay dry to make it through the winter.
By spring, a once robust hive of 50,000 bees will have dwindled to around 10,000 bees. Grape hyacinth, crocus, skunk cabbage and other ear- ly spring plants offer pollen and nectar for the bees to forage. Once nectar and pollen are being brought into the hive the queen will begin laying eggs and the cycle of the bee hive begins again.

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