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Overwintering Bees in the E-piary



What’s the buzz with the E-pairy honeybees in the winter?

Honeybees are known as a super pollinator.  Have you seen recent campaigns that take all products that are created with the help of pollinators out of the grocery stores?  Long story short, you’re not left with much.  Spring and summer are a thriving time in agriculture with much help from pollinators like the honeybee, but what do our tiny friends do in our northern climates in the winter?  Many of you have asked and we are here to give you the buzz.

In mid-fall when nighttime temperatures start to consistently hit 40 degrees Fahrenheit an alarming pheromone is let off in the hive to signal a few practices.  First, the female worker bees take it upon themselves to kick out the drone (male) population, equating for roughly ten percent of the colony.  Drones serve one purpose and one purpose only, to inseminate a new queen and when honey (food) reserves are scarce during the winter they are kicked to the curb because we all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. Sorry, guys.  Next, worker bees begin to cluster around the queen bee in a circular motion while flapping their wings to create heat.  Worker bees weave from the outside to inside portions of the cluster to keep the colony warm.  Clustering is a crucial practice that keeps the colony and queen at no lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit so she is able to continue laying eggs throughout the winter, which determines the fate of the colony.  The population of the colony drops drastically and the laying of eggs in early January is essential for the colony to repopulate in early spring.

As the temperature rises and falls, the cluster expands and contracts. The bees within the cluster have access to the food stores of honey and pollen. During warm periods, the cluster shifts its position to cover new areas of comb containing honey. An extremely prolonged cold spell can prohibit cluster movement, and the bees may starve to death only inches away from honey.

It’s upsetting to report that over 40% of honey bee colonies in the United States do not survive the winter and in New York State it is closer to a 50% failure rate.  As a beekeeper all you can do is cultivate healthy hives that have a large population at the end of summer and plenty of honey and pollen stores, over 80lbs in colder northern climates!  It’s not until the first warm days of spring where a hives fate is revealed and a beekeeper can either breathe easy or begin work on a new colony.

That’s all from the E-pairy this year, thanks for following and keep your fingers crossed for a successful overwinter.  Long live the honeybee!