What do bees do during the winter?
Whilst we, the humans, start to batten down the hatches during the colder months of the year, the bees begin their own hibernation. But what is their hibernation period like and what role do the beekeepers play in all this?
What do bees do during Autumn and Winter?
Having worked hard all spring and summer, the bees find less and less food once the weather gets colder. So the clever little workers have developed their own strategic hibernation.
Following the harvest in July, the beekeeper checks to see whether the bee colonies have enough food reserves. If the colonies don't have enough, the beekeeper has to provide them with easily accessible food. As this food serves as the basis for the winter reserves so that the bees don't starve during the colder months of the year.
The food gives the bees enough energy to keep themselves and each other warm when the cosy up to each other in the hive and and create the so-called winter cluster. The queen sits in the middle. The bees produce heat by contracting their muscles. The entire winter cluster moves towards the food reserves in the bee hive.
As of the beginning of spring, by the time that the bees have gathered in their first harvest of the year ('Tracht', used as part of the specialist vocabulary, refers to the nectar, pollen and honey dew which the bees collect and bring back to the hive), these winter reserves have been exhausted.
A little break for the hard-working little animals
During winter, honey bees do not leave their hive for several months. The queen bee doesn't lay any eggs during the winter and the hard-working worker bees are responsible for taking care of the hive. Whilst in spring and summer, the beehive remains at an ambient temperature of 35 degrees Celsius on average, in winter, the temperature drops so that the bees are able to save energy and food reserves. At the end of January, the temperature rises in the winter cluster and the queen bee starts to lay eggs again.
The beekeeperis responsible for harvesting the honey, making sure the bees are well fed and that they are healthy. Alongside the negative environmental consequences - such as the loss of food sources and the negative effects of pesticides used in farming - the honey bee is also threatened by diseases and parasites; the Varroa mite posing the greatest threat.
The Varroa mite is parasitic and can be found all over the world. Excessive infestations are, for the most part, deadly for Western honey bees and their colonies. The mite multiplies amongst the bees' offspring, bites into the bodies and sucks their blood.
Only with prudent treatment on the part of beekeepers is it possible to decimate the mite population during autumn and winter. Many beekeepers use organic treatments to deal with the infestation, for example, ant acid.
The correct preparation for spring
The beekeepers make a start on their preparations for the new bee year during the cooler months of the year. They clean the tools and materials necessary in the workshop and, if necessary, build new hives out of wood.
Every year, new hive frames are built, wired and furnished with new frames (shaped wax panels) so that there is enough material available for the expansion of the growing bee colonies and the new creation of colonies.
As the temperatures rise in spring, the colony expands and the queen bee increases the frequency of her laying cycle. Drones and worker bees hatch once agin and the hard-working bees start another busy season.