What do Honey Bees do During the Winter?

We get a lot of questions about what we do with our honey bees during the winter. We aren’t a big enough operator to send hives south for pollination purposes.

In the fall when the weather starts getting colder, we winterize our bees. This involves placing an insulator kit around each hive. The kit is black to help absorb sunlight to keep the hives warm throughout the winter. However, the bee breeds we purchase are known for their hardiness in northern climates, so that is part of their winter survival as well.

Winterizing bee hives in the fall of 2014

Winterizing bee hives in the fall of 2014

This is what our hives look like after their insulator kit has bee placed on them. Each hive also gets a moisture board placed inside to absorb excess moisture that might build up in the hive.  We don’t open the hives during the winter as this could cause the bees to die due to the cold and moisture. Our bees also get medication before the winter. Bees are highly susceptible to viruses and mites. Typically, a wild bee will join your hive at one point or another and they carry diseases as well as mites. Picture a mite like a tick on your body that you can’t remove. This is what happens to bees. The medication we use helps not only treat these issues, but prevent them as well. In 2015, we are looking at purchasing a different breed of bees that are known for grooming each other so they pick off the mites on each other.

So far this winter has been pretty mild for our bees. Although the bee breeds we purchase are hardy for Minnesota, repeated negative temperatures can be tough on the bees. Bees don’t quite hibernate like many think, but it is kind of similar. The worker bees will essentially beat their wings enough to keep the Queen alive through the winter. Some bee keepers may place their hives in a shed over the winter, where others, insulate them like we do.

As the days begin to get warmer, the bees will start to slowly emerge and become more active. This is when we start to check hives more. We watch the weather forecasts and then will remove the insulators. The bees themselves know when they should start foraging for pollen and that the weather is better, kind of like when we know it is safe to go out with just a sweatshirt on and not our down filled winter coat.

We hope you enjoyed the glimpse into what our bees do during the winter, and don’t forget to visit the Sweet Cheeks Honey website for additional information about our bees, and upcoming news!