It is December in Seabeck Washington. While our winters are very moderate compared to much of the country we do get snow from time to time. We just had two days of snow and our neck of the woods had over 10 inches. The days now are upper 30s and might get into the mid 40s this next week, the nights are in the lower 30s….in any case the snow will not last long.
A friend asked me today about the bees. What do they do when it snows? Do they hibernate?
This is the 6 million dollar discussion. How do you get the bees through the winter. This is the crux of what so many beekeepers struggle with each year. It is not unusual to have a 30 to 50% loss each year.
The bees do not hibernate. I consider hibernation like a sleep state. Bees remain active throughout the winter. They generate heat with the same muscles they use to fly. They flex or pump their mucsels in such a way that they maintain a core temperature of about 89 to 97 degrees F.
During warm weather bees come and go from the hive. Collecting and returning with pollen, nectar water or sap. They also leave for cleansing flights as they do not defecate in their hive.
At about 64 degrees F the bees begin to cluster, that is collect closely together to preserve heat. There are two basic parts of the cluster; the core which uses its muscles to create the heat and the outer layer that acts as insulation for the core. As temperatures drop the cluster tightens. The bees rotate from the inner part of the cluster to the outer, taking turns generating the heat. The energy they use is fueled by the honey they eat or the sugar the beekeeper has given them if they do not have sufficient honey stored.
The queen slows down egg laying and stops all together for a short time all to preserve energy and make it through the winter. Some think that the winter solstice is what keys the queen to begin to slowly build up the brood again.
Beekeepers in areas with harsher winters may actually wrap their hives to better insulate them, making it easier on the bees. The typical advice when it snows is to leave the snow on the top of the hives, it acts as an insulator.
My goal now is to just check them on warmer days and ensure they have plenty of sugar….and hope I don’t suffer the 30 to 50% loss that others have.
Thank you Lee for this great question.
Resource for information in this post came from here: http://www.capabees.com/main/files/pdf/winteringpdf.pdf