Monday, December 1, 2014

Bees May Be Working Harder In The Winter Than In The Summer 217-427-2678

Thanksgiving 2015


Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. Our family enjoyed a great Thanksgiving day out at the honey bee farms. Sheri and I are blessed to have six children from 31 to 7 years old. Even Seth, our Marine son, was able to be home for a few days.

It’s neat to have our grown children to bring special holiday food to contribute to a great feast. We had a beautiful snow on Thanksgiving, not enough to accumulate much, but just enough to be beautiful falling from the sky. Sheri and I hope your family had a wonderful holiday weekend too.

We now have our 2015 beekeeping classes online. Beekeeping Classes

With Thanksgiving behind us, Christmas is not far away. It’s amazing how many people tell me they got started in beekeeping because they were given a hive as a Christmas gift. Maybe you have someone who has everything and you don’t know what to get them for Christmas. We have some great gift ideas. We have four hive kits that would make the perfect gift and they come with bees. Check them out: Freedom Kit, Independence Kit, Liberty Kit and Early Bird Special.

Welcome to the first day of December. Winter is officially 20 days away and I’m sure all beekeepers are wondering what will this winter be like. Will it be as cold and long as last winter? How much snow will we get. Last winter was hard on bees.

Most beekeepers wonder if there is enough food in the hive. Is the population numerous enough to stay warm all winter. Are the mites, within the winter cluster, spreading viruses? There is really nothing we can do for our bees when they are clustered for winter except wait for spring.


Here’s a picture of dead bees,

that died in the winter from



I did everything I could and what I’m banking on the most is providing enough food for my bees through the winter. I don’t want them to starve. Will they starve out and die? A colony must consume food to stay warm and feed small amounts of brood during the winter. If they run low on food, they cannot continue to generate heat and will perish.

Bees work hard in the summer, carrying resources into the hive, building comb, and raising brood. It doesn’t seem like there is much for the colony to do during the winter. However, there is still a lot of energy that is exerted during the winter. The queen will usually continue to lay a small amount of eggs throughout the winter months, and that brood must be fed and kept warm. And the cluster itself is busy regulating the temperature and humidity within the hive. This takes work!

Winterhives I read a USDA study by Charles D. Owens in the early 70s where he conducted research on hives located in Madison, Wis, from December 1 to March 31 over a 5 year period. It was interesting what he observed on a cold winter night, “On January 4 between 0700 and midnight when the outside temperature was between 2 and 9 degrees (f), the cluster moved sideways and down into the center body.” He observed that the winter cluster, with temperatures near 0 (f), moved down into honey, replenished their resources and moved back up into where they were.  He noted that large colonies can move their cluster into honey, whereas small colonies could not move. This proves that bees are not tucked away doing nothing for winter, but rather they continue to work hard to eat, stay warm and raise small amounts of brood. Honey bees do not hibernate.

How can we reduce the amount of energy colonies must put into surviving the winter? We can make sure they have food always near the cluster. That’s why we always recommend our Winter-Bee-Kind placed just above the cluster. Much discussion has taken place about wrapping hives in the winter. It can’t hurt. However, my research revealed that on warm days, insulated wraps work against their intended purpose. For example, if you have insulation around your hive and it warms up on a winter day, then the insulated wrap prevents the warm sun from hitting the hive and warming it. We want to take advantage of the occasional warm winter days that come along, and insulation could keep the warm out. A warm winter day allows the cluster to move within the hive onto new honey for food.A wind break, in very cold and windy areas, may reduce the amount of energy bees must exert to stay warm. My old farm house is much colder inside when it’s windy outside. The wind sucks the warm air from my house.

This is why I prefer a wind break rather than wrapping a hive. In Illinois the occasional warm, winter day is usually very windy. It’s warm enough for our bees to want to take a cleansing flight, but it is so windy they cannot fly out of the hive. In my next blog, I’ll show you the special wind break that I place around my hives to stop the wind, capitalizing on the warmth of the sun, allowing bees to take a cleansing flight and make it back into the hive without getting blown away.

Before I go, let me encourage you to click below to see our newest videos on beekeeping. We have new videos on extracting honey, Winter-Bee-Kinds, and more. See you next week.

David and Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

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