The day before Thanksgiving was sunny and mild and I could not resist the temptation to have a peak inside my hives. After all, we had a serious cold spell about two weeks ago. Cold is not usually a problem for healthy hives, but this cold spell came on so fast I did have to wonder about my girls.
We had balmy weather for weeks this fall and then suddenly we were hit with single digit temperatures, including three nights below zero, the lowest being 19 degrees below! I knew my hives were healthy going into winter with good stores of food, but remember those two new hives I spoke about in the last article? Ah-huh, definitely smaller hives with fewer numbers of bees.
So with a full sun shining on my hives and no wind I decided to take a look inside. I have eight hives here at the house and simply removed the cover and then the inner cover to peak inside. Even though it was nice out you don’t leave the hive open for long so no frames were pulled from the hives, just a look on top for numbers.
I am happy to report that all hives weathered the cold just fine. While you can clearly see a difference in numbers from one hive to the next, they all look good with the exception of one hive and this is the first of the two new hives. Clearly there is enough food stored away but the ball of bees in this hive is not much larger than a softball. Technically a cluster the size of a softball is all that is needed to stay warm and winter and clearly they had done so. My concern with this hive is for when the queen takes a break from laying in December, something all queens do for a few weeks. Because many of the bees in this hive were added from other hives I do not know how old they are, they may continue to die off and not be replaced with new bees when the queen takes a break from laying. Otherwise, all the hives look really good, including the second of the two new hives that were started.
When we were tossing log after log into the woodstove to stay warm during those zero degree days, the bees in each hive were clustered together maintaining a temperature of around 90 degrees. I thought of them often, almost every time I added wood to the stove, but there was no need to worry. They are healthy, doing well and most of all, doing what bees do; gather around their queen, keep her warm, feed her and rest up while waiting for spring.
On a side note, bees born in late fall or early winter are the longest lived bees in the hive. Because they are not outside flying each and every daylight hour to collet nectar and pollen, these bees will live for months instead of only weeks. They will see the hive through the winter months so that it can prosper once again in the spring.
Happy Holidays to everyone. Just like the bees, winter is a time of rest and staying warm. May the warmth of your family sweeten winter days with cozy mugs of cheer.