17 Dec 2020

Bees in winter

Martin Davies

The Honeybees do neither:

At the end of the summer, the Queen bee will lay eggs to produce worker bees that will take the Queen right through the Winter.

The abundance of forager bees from the Summer will reduce and die off over the Autumn leaving a much-reduced number in the nest of honeybees. At the height of summer, the numbers of bees within a hive can be boosted to reach 50 – 60K and in the winter can reduce down to 10 – 20K. When temperatures fall the Winter bees will cluster around the Queen looking after her to bring her through the winter months, so that she can carry on the colony into the next season. A Queen honeybee can potentially live between 2 – 5 years.

A worker bee during the summer months can live up to six weeks, she is so busy she works herself to death, literally. Winter bees slow down and their main aim is to maintain the Queen. There is little to no forage to collect and the only flight during this time are mainly for cleansing flights when the weather is warm enough to leave the hive. This reduced activity enables these bees to live for up to six months if necessary.

If you visit the Botanic Garden over the winter months do stop by the Bee garden. If it is a nice sunny day you may see some activity with the Honeybees taking the opportunity to leave the hive for a cleansing flight or to seek out some winter forage. Our Winters do seem to be getting warmer and this leads to the bees being more active. This may seem to be positive but all the activity leads to the Bees consuming more of their winter stores.

Beekeepers will be keeping a close check on the level of stores remaining in the hives by hefting the Hives. This takes a bit of practice but if you see the beekeeper lifting a Hive, this is to get an idea of the weight. This will indicate to the experienced beekeeper, how much of their stores they have left.

If the hive appears to be too light the beekeeper will give the hive a supplemental feed of Bee fondant to make sure the colony does not suffer starvation, as this can be one of the reasons for colony losses.

Another reason to suffer losses is due to the Varroa mite. If we have a mild winter the Queen may keep laying right through and this can lead to the build-up of mites in the colony. The mites’ favour brood cells to breed.  Another activity that you may see the beekeepers doing at the apiary is giving the hives a treatment to knock down the mites. Even if there is no brood in the colony, the mites latch onto the adult bees and feed on them weakening the colony, so it is good practice to reduce the mites as much as possible by giving a winter treatment.

All of the Apiaries at the garden are monitored throughout the winter months to ensure the Bees have the best chance of coming through to the spring happy and healthy and ready for a new season.

Lynda Christie
December 11, 2020