With summer behind us, many of you may be wondering what happens to the bees when winter arrives. Below is an quick guide to what the bees are doing during autumn and winter.
End of Summer
At the end of summer and the start of autumn the worker bees will start to throw the drone bees out of the hive. Drones serve little purpose as the hive starts to bunker down for winter and the queen will stop laying eggs. Drone bees are male bees, whose only job is to mate with the queen, as winter comes they are surplus to requirement as the queen won’t be reproducing much during the cold weather.
The population of the hive will greatly reduce (compared to in the summer where there can be as many as 70,000 bees in the hive) and only a core set of around 15,00 bees will remain.
The autumn worker bees are slightly different from the summer bees. Overwintering bees can live for up to six months, while bees born during spring and summer live for just six weeks, when they are busy collecting nectar and pollen for the colony.
If the bees have surplus honey at this point beekeepers may choose to remove it, however it also the time in the year when beekeepers may start winter feeding, if the honey stores are short.
As the weather gets colder, the bees will start preparing for winter (you will see from your garden and outside spaces that the bees are not spending much time outside the hive). By the time November comes, the bees will go into a cluster and will rarely leave the hive.
The colony clusters together to stay warm and protect the hive in winter. They do this by continuously shuffling the warm bees from the centre to the outside of the cluster. Anyone who has seen emperor penguins huddle in Antarctica will understand this process! The bees tend to become slower and slower as the weather gets colder, becoming dormant at around 8°C.
Around February the bees will feel the change in season and lengthening of day and will start increasing the amount of food they eat from the winter stores, they also start feeding the queen to stimulate her into laying eggs as their aim will be to strengthen the size of the colony for the season ahead.
I am wondering if next year will be the year our family gets it own colony, watch this space and find out!