What are the bees up to this fall?

While we are cozying up to a good book, or kicking back watching the game, what are the bees doing? As you might have guessed, they are just as busy as ever. We sat down with our head beekeeper, Randall York, to hear what the bees are up to.

How many bees actually live in a hive?

“At population peak - summer - there are about 60,000 bees per double deep hive.  The queen will reduce the number of eggs laid as the summer dearth (lack of food) is felt and will continue this slower pace through the winter. By January, often the number is more in the 25,000 or lower range.”  

In order to maximize, we must first minimize.

What do the worker bees do during the autumn and winter?  

“The workers, all female, will continue to maintain the hive, raising brood, cleaning, and guarding.  The older workers will continue foraging for water, pollen and nectar.  While not as busy as spring time it is still a very important time since they need to continue to stockpile food for the winter.”  

Stocking up to hunker down.

Do you feed the bees?  

“Yes. We start offering sugar water to our hives in early October - they definitely prefer nectar so they will only feed on the sugar water if it is too difficult to obtain their nutrients elsewhere.  The rule is, you want you want to be heavy going into the winter - it may take 45 lbs of honey to sustain a hive through a winter.” 

Better good and fed than hungry to bed.

How do bees survive during the colder months?

“Once the temperature drops to about 45 degrees the bees will form a ‘cluster’ which is exactly what it sounds like, it is a lot of bees all huddled up next to each other to maintain a stable temperature for the queen and the brood.  They will eat their food that has been stockpiled during the fall months.  In late January and early February the Red Maple (and lots of other plants) will start to bloom and that is a signal to the bees that spring is about 6 weeks away, the queen is prompted to start laying eggs in higher numbers anticipating the warmer temperatures and the coming nectar flow.”

It’s a cluster not a Cloister.

Do bees leave the hive in the winter?

“Yes! Bees will leave the hive to go to the bathroom nearly daily.  Bees can leave the hive for short flights even when the temperature is close to 40 degrees.  It is very common to see bees flying a day or two after it has snowed.   They zoom out, poop and zoom back in - the snow is literally yellow outside their hive!  If it is sunny and 40 degrees, bees will venture out on short flights.  If rainy and 40 degrees - probably not. During extreme cold, they can stay in the hive for days or even weeks at a time.”

An orderly hive requires bathroom business outside.


Do you have a question about bees or beekeeping? Ask us on Twitter by tagging @CloisterHoney or message us on Facebook or Instagram. #AskTheHive

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