It is that time of year again. Time to bundle up the hives and ride out the winter months ahead. From what I have learned, the bees need three things to increase their chance of making it through the winter alive. They need food (honey), a healthy starting hive, and they need to stay dry. Apparently they can weather very cold temperatures, if they can stay dry. Last year, my bees survived snows and temperature’s down to -23 degrees Fahrenheit. They tend to cluster around the queen, like a ball, and vibrate their wings to maintain a temperature at the center (close to 96 degrees) in order to survive. They rotate turns on the outside of the ball where it is the coldest and of course some die, but the colony has a better chance to make it. If all goes well, in the spring, the queen begins to lay a lot of eggs in order to get the number of “worker bees” up. This then allows them to take advantage of the large, beautiful spring bloom. It is during those last few weeks of winter that a hive is at the greatest risk for “starving to death”. It is for this reason that the beekeeper often “feeds” the bees in order to supplement their winter food stores. This is usually accomplished with sugar water. Once spring arrives “nature” takes over and the bees can usually forage on the great variety of flowers that become available.
I am just a beginner, but beekeeping has been a very interesting and enjoyable hobby. I have yet to get a “honey harvest”, but then I did not become involved with bees just for the honey. I wanted to help the bee population. Perhaps you are already aware of the many problems facing the bees, from pesticide use, to mites, to colony collapse disorder. Most of the food we get at the market comes from plants that were pollinated by bees. So we really need a healthy bee population.