But what are they doing??
When chatting around with various people, we are often asked.... what is happening to the bees during the winter?
During the cold months (actually not so cold if you refer to the 2019/20) the colony of bees will enter a state of diapause. It is a period of time during which the colony will not expand anymore, the Queen will stop laying and the bees will save their energy to go through the winter.
But are they "sleeping"?
No. They are not, it's not an hibernation. The activity will be reduced to the minimum, focusing on keeping the warmth, feeding and keeping a good hygiene. For that purpose, they will cluster in a rugby ball shape in the middle of the hive as soon as the outside temperature dips under 10 to 14 deg Celsius. By flexing their muscle, they will keep the colony at almost constant temperature, above 20 deg. C.
The cluster will move too!
Yes, they are moving inside the hive. First, they will need to reach the food. So the bees will reach the storage when they need. That is why it is very important to not harvest all from the hive but to leave them 15 to 20 kg of honey to pass the winter. It's their food, and storage for the few months when they will not be able the do any foraging. Amazingly, the bees will take turn to be the external layer of the cluster, it's a team work!
What if.... they need to go to the toilet??
Coming from non beekeepers, i have heard that question a lot....
The answer is...well...they go.
We call that a cleansing flight. During the winter, on a sunny day, the colony will all of a sudden explode in a massive activity. The bees will go out for a few seconds, and basically relieve themselves. It's better at that time not to have your car close or some drying clothes and bed sheet on the drying line...as they will be covered in bee poo... and bee poo stains are notoriously difficult to clean....
is waiting... and waiting....and keep asking other beekeepers about bees, and will stress over the survival of the colonies....and you will hear:
"Will my girls pass the winter??"
"I can't wait for the spring to come, i miss them!"
Then the beekeeper will rush to acquire new hives, or tools for the coming season. He will buy the hive tool number 28 (He already got several, scattered in different apiaries or hiding somewhere in his vehicle), he will make plans for future apiaries and read a lot of books..... as beekeeping is a constant learning mission.
Xmas will bring him a new suit, or hive, or something else...but it will be bee related!