Are you interested in GARDENING?  Then you might find one of these articles handy:

Edible Flowers: A Rose by Any Other Name Just Might be Lunch by Adrianne Masters

Small-scale Homesteading: How Much Do You Really Need? by Rebecca Long

Going Bats: The Benefits of Bat Houses on Your Homestead by Patricia Halderman

Victory Gardens - Winners and Losers by Barbara Bamberger Scott

The Four-season Garden by Michael Nolan

Super Tuber! by Neil Shelton

Vegetable Gardening: Your Next Step to Self-Sufficiency by Doug Smith

Attract Wildlife to Your Property by Doug Smith

Pint-size Plow-horses by Doug Smith

Easy as Pie: The Myth of Simple Living by Sheri Dixon

The Three Sisters Legacy: The Science Behind Companion Planting by Clare Brandt

Look to the Weed by Diana Barker

Gardening by the Moon by Catherine Lugo

American Farmers Today: The Lances by Karyn Sweet

Wintering Bees

Article and Photos

by Kim Flottum,

Editor of Bee Culture Magazine

In the northern parts of the U. S., summer, and most of autumn, are once again gone.  Though a hard frost hasn’t coated the windows and weeds yet—except in the far reaches—most of the flowers are finished and only stalks and seed heads remain.  Still, there’s a few straggling asters left in the wettest parts of the fields, sought after by desperate bees but ignored by most for they know those lonely white flowers are barren and gone.  Nature has little left for the bees.  However, on rare days when it warms to over 50... when the sun shines and the wind settles enough... ambitious bees go looking for the last of the season’s wine.  It’s in their genes to seek and find. 

This first winter can be daunting for a beekeeper just beginning.  But then, winters are always daunting...  that a box of bugs manages to stay alive, moving, buzzing, raising young, eating, sleeping... when only inches away it’s cold... too cold for them to live... is one of those fascinating mysteries beekeepers revel in.  Here’s how it works, and how you can help. 

  It’s still not too late to feed sugar syrup in central and southern parts of the U.S., and there is a host of inhive feeders available to use. These replace a frame in the bottom box if there’s room. If the weight of the colony is low, feed the bees a 2:1 sugar:water solution until they quit taking it.

First, bees don’t heat the inside of their hive.  The air, well, most of the air inside that stack of boxes is just about exactly the same temperature as the outside air... so it’s cold inside in the winter.  Rather, when the temperature begins to drop the bees’ first order of business is to keep the brood warm... and the brood needs to stay at right about 93 degrees or so... warm by any standard.  To do that the bees begin to gather together and cover the brood, using their bodies to warm the brood in the beeswax cells they are covering.  But wait... bees are cold blooded... not like you and me.  How’s that work? 

Some bees stand directly on the surface of the comb that contains capped honey and stored pollen plus they are hovering over and covering all the brood, both sealed and open.  Some bees go head first into cells next to brood on both sides of the comb and generally fill all the empty space beside, over and under any brood in the comb so the brood is completely, totally surrounded.  When the brood is covered and safe the remaining bees do the same, head first in cells, standing on the comb surface, rubbing and touching and filling in all the empty spaces.  

  Protein supplements may also be necessary if there isn’t much pollen stored. The bees won’t need it now so much as shortly after the beginning of the new year, when the queen begins laying eggs in earnest again. Without a steady source of high quality protein egg laying will be restricted and the population of the colony will be compromised for early nectar and pollen flows next spring.

What you end up with is a bunch of bees forming a football shaped cluster basically in the lower center of the hive, encompassing all of the brood and some of the honey they previously stored.  They protect the brood, and they eat the honey.  But remember, they’re still cold blooded.  What they do next is amazing.  

The individual bees on the outside of this mass of bees turn to face the center of the cluster, exposing the tips their abdomens to the outside... where the business part of the bee is—the sting. Once positioned, these bees, and many of the bees inside the mass of bees close to the surface, but usually not those closest to the center, begin to vibrate their wing muscles... and, just as you and I begin to warm up when we exercise, these vibrating bees begin to warm up and that heat is transferred to the rest of the bees in the cluster. 

  Wide open spaces lend themselves to too much wind. If your bees have this kind of landscape surrounding them, seriously consider a windbreak to help reduce the stress on the hive. Use snow fence, fence posts with landscape burlap, straw bales, or any temporary fence to keep cold winds at bay.

Meanwhile, the bees in the center consume the honey, feed the young brood if any are present, and tend to the needs of the queen—who may, or may not still be producing brood.  Remember that these bees are crammed in together taking up less than a quarter of the space they were when it was summer time.  Consider putting 20 people in a typical elevator…and having them run in place…the effect is the same in the bee hive. 

One other factor is that bees are covered with hairs…lots of hairs.  Pushed close together, these hairs add insulation to each bee, and slow the loss of body heat and warm air from the mass to the cold world outside the cluster.  Meanwhile, the bees on the outside of the cluster, shivering and vibrating like mad also reduce the flow of warm air away from the inside of the cluster.  

  Last resort feeding is to put sugar on the inner cover surrounding the inner cover opening. Don’t make this a habit, plan ahead and get the food on the bees sooner.


Continued on page 2   >


 submit to reddit