By Shaun Thomas
The seasons are changing; fall is finally here! As the weather cools, you may not see as many honey bees foraging about, as their work is shifting from outdoor activity to in-hive activity. Here’s what’s happening:
The summer forager bees have literally worked themselves to death collecting enough food for the hive to successfully overwinter. These worker bees are quite protective of the 50-60 pounds of honey they’ve collected and stored, and none will go to waste. This includes the feeding of unnecessary occupants, namely the male drones. Although drones are key in reproduction of the species, they are not contributors to the day-to-day winter operations of the hive. Therefore, as the chill sets in, female workers will mercilessly kick the drones out, so as not waste valuable honey. No worries, more drones will be produced by the queen in spring so that they can continue their dual purpose of mating with a queen and raising overall morale of the hive.
The new generation of worker bees, or winter workers, will now take over. Their sole purpose is to see the queen through to the next season. Amazingly, these winter bees are genetically altered to survive the next 6 to 8 months (not mere weeks like the summer foragers), and will live to see the queen through the spring brood-rearing season. Their bodies contain a compound that helps store food reserves to better resist the cold. These bees will collectively form a “cluster” around the queen, which will ebb and flow as outside temperatures change to maintain her at a constant temperature of 92 degrees Fahrenheit. This cluster of bees will move around the hive, consuming honey stores as they go. It is not uncommon, though, for the cluster to become stranded and unable to reach honey stores because outside temperatures are too frigid and the honey is too far away from the cluster. This brings devastating consequences to the survival of the hive.
What we can do:
Our beekeepers have an important role in assisting the survival of the hive over winter. Beekeepers often have an Autumn “to do” list for this reason. Most importantly, they ensure that the hive is full of enough honey to last through spring, and will supplement with concentrated sugar syrup as needed. It is also important to have the hive equipment properly arranged so that the honey is accessible to the bees all winter and arranged in such a way as to promote dense clustering around the queen. The hive entrance must be protected from mice and other intruders with an entrance reducer and mouse guard. Tilting the hive forward and adding a top entrance will provide proper ventilation, and protection from moisture and mold growth. By early fall, beekeepers have already treated for mites and other diseases to ensure a healthy hive going into winter. So please, next time you see one of our local beekeeper friends, thank them for all they do to ensure the winter survival of our honeybees!
CFC Farm & Home Center Culpeper welcomes Shaun Thomas, our “Farmer’s Concierge.” Shaun is your resource for non-traditional farming. Her degree in Biology paired with her passion for bugs, bees, poultry and organic gardening make her your go-to girl for advice on your farm/farmette/market garden. If you venture out to the Homesteaders Conference on October 14th at the Warrenton Fair Grounds, wander over to the CFC Farm & Home Center booth and say hello to Shaun!