We've had a few nice days recently which has given the bees a chance to get out of the hive and stretch their wings. This has many folks wondering what bees do in the winter.
The queen - which is the only bee that lays eggs - stopped laying eggs in the early fall. These eggs hatched into what are called "winter bees." While a normal summer bee may spend 6-8 weeks foraging in the summer, winter bees last up to six months. Many of the winter bees that hatched in October will still be in the hive in January. These winter bees cluster around the queen and keep her (and themselves) warm by shivering. Even when the temperatures outside get well below 0, the cluster inside the hive will be about 80 - 90 degrees.
On nice days between now and January you'll see these winter bees leaving the hive for short cleansing flights (bees need to go to the bathroom, too) and for a chance to stretch their wings. These cleansing flights will continue throughout the winter. Also, around Christmas time the queen will start laying another round of eggs which will become a second brood of winter bees. These winter bees will carry the queen through until the early spring when pollen and nectar are again available, daytime temperatures start rising, and the queen starts to lay some of the first foragers that will kick off another season of beekeeping.
This weekend I'll be out doing my part to make sure the bees have a warm and dry hive to get them through the winter. I'll try and take some pictures and videos to post to the page so folks can see what the hives look like going into the winter.