November 13, 2010

Although I took 16 hrs of "Beekeeping in Northern Climates" course back in March I find that I've forgotten most things about honeybees. Like remembering the fact that they don't freeze but instead starve to death in the winter. Why the black cardboard box to warm them up on sunny days then? Well, because, the warmer they are the less honey they consume. Ooooooh, yeah... Oh yeah?? Ok, now I'm lost.

(picture) The hive at night

I had to go through it all again in my head, filling in the blanks, so please enlighten me on some of the finer points of beekeeping because I'm totally lost.

1. The colder bees get, the more energy they use to warm their hives.
2. Bees cluster in the hive and shiver to stay warm, heating the center of their cluster up to 80-90 degrees F and the outside of the cluster gets about 40-50 degrees F.
3. The bees rotate from inside to outside, sharing the warm spots, as to avoid freezing.
4. The bees are always surrounding their queen to protect her in the winter from the cold and they feed her throughout as well.

Here is where I believe I'm confused. Do bees eat honey more when it is cold or when it is warm?

4. I've heard that bees do not consume honey if it is too cold because they don't want to break cluster, therefore the colder it is the more likely they are to die.


I've also heard the opposite, that they need more honey the colder it is because they use up more energy warming their hive. The more shivering/warming they have to do the more eating they have to do.

If bees do consume more honey when it is warm, risking honey stores the warmer days we have, then why use the black box at all - since the black box will contribute to warming on sunny days. If we don't use the black box and they remain colder then they won't break cluster to eat. See why I'm confused?

5. Bees will die off if there isn't enough honey to get them through the winter.
6. In Minnesota that means a beehive needs at least 80 lbs of honey.
7. The honeybees start their cluster at the bottom of the hive and move up slowly as they consume the honey, ending their journey at the top hive body.
8. I need to check the hive on a warm sunny day (Jan, Feb?) to see if the cluster is moving nicely upwards (not sure what I'm suppose to do once I determine where they are in the hive).
9. Start feeding the bees sugar syrup and pollen sub. in March.

BTW/I had to clean snow away from the lower entrance of the hive today. It is only 33 degrees (warm for a Minnesota winter) but my bees are working diligently to keep their hive toasty. I peeked in the upper entrance to see what they are up to and I saw shivering little bodies doing lots of buzzing. I'm proud of them... doing what nature does best... SURVIVING!
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TeresaR said...

Of course I have no answer for you, but I'm curious to see what your bee experts have to say. You guys have snow? We were in the 70s this past week!

Jared said...

The black shroud also helps keep drafts out of the cracks in older woodenware. I personally believe that they do a combination of everything you said. If they are so cold all they are doing is shivering, they cannot move to eat the honey because if they move from the cluster, they will get chilled and not be able to make it back. Plus the honey is colder.

I hope your bees make it too!

Sam Smith said...

I would NOT open the hive until temps warm up in the spring, there isn't much you can do anyway if you find a problem in the winter, opening them will break all the propolis seals they installed. The primary reason I use hive wrapping is to control condensation inside the hive, due to the bees generating heat + humidity your hive can quickly become a damp tomb, without proper ventilation + (depending on the shape of hive) some kind of insulation. Thats what happened to me last year. you should be fine though since you have a top entrance, just keep the snow away from the lower one.

Phillip said...

What confuses me as a novice beekeeper is the contradictory advice I get from experienced beekeepers, especially in regards to wintering bees. One beekeeper will advise me to do one thing and the next day another beekeeper will suggest the complete opposite. And many do the same thing but a little bit different -- different enough to make it difficult for the novice to choose the best method.

I've read the same information on clustering bees as you have. Warmer bees are more active and eat more honey, thus there's a risk of starving. Cooler bees stay clustered and don't eat as much honey, but if they get too cold and can't move around to eat the honey, they starve. And when the bees do eat the honey, evaporation creates more moisture which can condense into cold water and kill the bees. It's a fine balance between cooling, warming and ventilating excess moisture from the hive.

I'm in St. John's, Newfoundland, where our winters are probably just as challenging as yours, though perhaps a bit wetter and maybe windier. My plan is to wrap the hives is roofing paper (tar paper or felt, whatever it's called), put a mouse-proof entrance reducer on and slip a piece of insulation between the inner and outer covers. I don't want to risk over-insulating and creating too much heat because that can cause the bees to go out for cleansing flights thinking it's warm outside, but they end up freezing to death instead. There are all kinds of wonderful things that can happen.

I'm just as confused about what to do in the middle of the winter if I see the bees clustering at the top of the hive. I've heard of people reversing the boxes so the clustered bees are on the bottom and most of the honey is moved to the top. That way they work their way up into the honey. But is there some reason bees can't go down (or around or anywhere else) to eat the honey? Feral bees manage it somehow. Why can't kept bees do the same?

Anyway, I think the trick to beekeeping is learning what's best for your bees in your specific climate. In other words, it's trial and error and hoping for the best.

Good luck.

Michelle said...

Hey T,

I'm so jealous of your warm temps! We are now in the 30's. Winter comes too soon. I hope you are still warm.


Thanks for the info on the black cover. Makes sense... about the drafts it prevents. My bees weren't the most proliferate propolis makers so that black cover will be good then.

Thanks Sam for the tip on opening the hive. I wondered about that. I read somewhere that I should open the hive in mid winter to make sure the bees have moved up but I definitely won't do that now.

Phillip, I know EXACTLY what you mean about contradictory advice. I was told by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter in our class that you can ask 30 beekeepers how to do something and you'll get 30 different answers. Initially, when I got my bees, I worried about EVERYTHING but Gary told me once, "if in doubt just leave the bees alone because they know what they are doing." I guess there isn't a one size fits all for the bees and their keepers so I go with the advice that feels right and if it turns out to be wrong then I've learned something. So we've both come to the same conclusion "It is trial and error and hoping for the best" - I agree! :)

lola said...

Hola me llamo Lola y lo que puedo decir al respecto es que las abejas necesitan tener suficiente miel en la colmena en invierno para comer y no se mueran ya que no salen todos los días al campo según el tiempo y porque tampoco hay tantas flores en invierno.Si debido al frío comen miel o no , no lo se ya que yo vivo en España en el sur y no hace tanto frío.
Un saludo.

Michelle said...

Gracias por la informacion sobre las abejas!