Saturday, January 15, 2011

Winter Bees

"What are the bees doing now?" is a question I often hear this time of the year. The temperature is often below freezing and the snow keeps piling up. What also keeps piling up are the dead bees at the bottom of the hive.

This time of the year is difficult for most of us in the northern hemisphere. The bees' strategy is to cuddle together around their queen mother and generate heat by flexing their wing muscles. The bees rotate from the outside to the inside of the cluster and from the inside to the outside. The ones on the outside move into the center when they get cold and the ones close to the center move towards the outside. They do this or they just fall to the bottom to their icy death. The weather is too cold or the hive is too moist, it is unclear as to what makes one bee drop dead and another move back towards the center.

When the weather warms up a bit (which happens every now and again throughout the winter...freeze, thaw, freeze, get the point), the ladies will break cluster and go to the 'outhouse'. Some bees venture out for a cleansing flight (the bees slowly eat through the food stores and fly away from the hive to defecate) and are rendered impotent when hit with the cold air. They are unable to move when this happens and unless the air warms up a bit or the beekeeper puts the heat of her breath on the apparently dead bee, she will die.

By now the queen has started to lay eggs again, hopefully building up force for the first signs of pollen in the next couple of weeks. Willows and maples will feed our insect ally during the hard month of February and hopefully they will have enough honey to get them through to the first major push of dandelions! And if they have left overs when dandelions hit...Tammy will get some sweet stuff for her culinary enjoyment :)

Sometimes though, the bees just don't make it through the winter. The hive might be too big and starve, or too small and freeze. A mouse might get into the hive and destroy the comb and the queen has nowhere to lay eggs. CIrculation might be week in the hive and moisture builds up and chills the brood or bees. So many possibilities in the next couple months, it can worry a beekeeper sick! But I am trusting the dreams that I am having (last night I had a dream where some children had beehives at their school and were actually PLAYING with the bees!) are telling me that the bees will carry on and the human relationship to them is reforming based on understanding and respect and not fear of being stung. When I go to my hives and I put my ear up to the cold boxes, I hear the sound of the bees alive, a quiet humming that resonates with my heart. I sing with the bees and trust that they will be just fine.

top bar hive in winter

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