Bees in the Winter

Did you ever wonder what bees do in Winter?  No?  Rats.  Well, it’s pretty interesting actually (says the beekeeper).  I was up at the apiary last weekend and wanted to check in on things.  When we used to actually have cold winters, beekeepers had to make sure their bees were fed well in the fall and hope the bees had enough honey to survive the winter.

Bee hives in winter

Bees huddle into a cluster when it is cold and they rub together to make heat through friction.  The cluster of bees moves slowly through the hive during slightly warmer days to get to new food.  When we have a normal winter, the bees slow somewhat and don’t go through lots of honey (i.e. they don’t starve to death).  When it gets warm like it has been, the bees are more active than normal and tend to run through their stores of honey faster than they should.  I took some sugar-water up to leave out for the bees since it is supposed to be pretty nice all week so hopefully I can balance out the increased honey consumption.

Bees hanging out in winter

The good thing about this warmer weather is that the bees get to take a poop break.  They don’t poop in their hive so they “hold it” all winter.  It’s better for them if they get a break as you might imagine.  Now I know you may be confused right now.  I know, girls don’t poop and all of the bees in the winter hive are girls.  Friends, I cannot explain it.  Without any males in the hive (they are only there in the warm-weather hive), all I can figure is that some of the females turn into…well, you get it.

Bees hanging out in winter

Anyhow, I checked out the hives and things looked good.  A few bees came out in the cold to greet me and I listened to the other hives  to make sure that each hive had bees.  There is still a lot of winter left so who knows how things will end up, but I am hopeful for another strong start this spring!

Click here for more info on our bees

10 thoughts on “Bees in the Winter

  1. So if the bees don’t get a warm weather potty break do you have to go out there in the spring with a bunch of tiny suppositories to help them out?

  2. Just the opposite…when they do finally get out, you wouldn’t believe the mess that is right outside the hive. Well, really, it’s just if you park a car nearby or if there is still any snow, you see yellow poops everywhere! Nosema (bee dysentery) is a whole different issue that is a huge mess but just normal poops are pretty amazing!

  3. Question about the opposite problem of warm weather—cold weather/snow. How do the bees fare when the entrance to the hive is covered in snow? Seems like the oxygen would be depleted pretty quickly.

  4. Excellent primer on winter beekeeping. I think I may have mentioned it before but my parents lived only 15 miles from a pepsi bottling plant when they were keeping bees and had a ready supply of cheap sucrose that they could purchase for winter food for bees. It took quite a bit of that stuff with 150 hives!

    We had a really warm winter last year and so far this winter is shaping up to be a repeat. In fact, it has been warm enough that had their been blossoms, the bees probably would have been working the fields.

  5. Ceecee – if they get snow in the doorway, they are probably still ok…the top is not air tight so they can get air that way. If they are completely snowed under though, they would not do well. As you guessed, bees need a lot of air and ventilation is critical. I have heard it said that you can’t freeze a healthy colony of bees but you can starve them, let them get too wet (i.e. no ventilation or actually in water) or get mites

  6. Ed, I’d like o hear more about your parents’ bee experiences. I got bulk corn syrup one year but found I don’t really need it in my current situation. Still, it works well! Our winter has bee mild also except for a couple of significant storms but they came and went and then we got back to April weather

  7. I’ve been wanting to get into beekeeping for a few years now. Reading a lot of material and keeping my ears open. One of these cold nights I might just order some equipment and get on a list for a pair of hives.

  8. Bees are so cool, nice info! If my neighbor didn’t get herself a hive recently, I may have tried raising bees as well. Now I just let her (and her girls) do all the work in my tiny orchard… 🙂

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