Today I believe my bees have finally gathered into their winter cluster. The temperature is circling 10°C and as I passed by the apiary a couple times today, I didn’t see any activity. During spring and summer, when the weather is cool or rainy, I can usually see bees peeking out around the entrance. Now, there doesn’t seem to be any trace of activity.
Is that correct though? What are bees doing inside the hive when the temperature dips? Honeybees cluster together on the comb, interlocking their limbs and even hairs to maintain a steady temperature. They generate warmth by consuming honey stores. The bees producing most of the heat are on the inside of the cluster, other bees insulate on the outer edges of the cluster. In order to consume honey, the bees need to add water to it before they can digest it. They find the water inside the hive, in condensation droplets on the comb. My teacher warned me not to intervene or be alarmed when I see water running out of the hive. Bees can regulate the amount of water they’ll get rid of and what they’ll keep or use. This is the only source of water bees will use during late autumn and early winter. In February however, when the weather is good enough, bees will gather water from sources outside the hive. This is also the time when bees go on ‘cleansing flights’, pooping and dragging dead bees out, and then you’ll see them again!
This doesn’t mean however, that the hive can be opened again! In northern Belgium we wait for the first day in March when there is no rain, minimal wind and the temperature is at least 15°C. At this point, there should be a good amount of brood, bees gathering, and we’ll take measures to prevent swarming. The varroa mite will also be busy reproducing and harassing our poor bees.
Like most beginning beekeepers, I’m worried whether my bees will have enough stores to last through the winter. They started as new colonies in spring, two have developed very well and one is a little less quick. I haven’t removed any of their honey this year and have fed them sugar water until they simply wouldn’t have it anymore, they’ve all had about 10l and stopped taking it in during the first week of September. They were still busy gathering, so I think they probably just found something better. I made the discovery that there is apparently a chrysanthemum grower in my area, so I’m sure they were hanging out over there.
I also love that even now, the differences between hives can be seen. My two strongest hives have given a ‘lived in’ look to their hives. The light blue has a very dirty front, I antropomorphize that they wipe their feet before they go in. The dark blue one has been gnawing at the entrance. Because there were lots of wasps and hornets around I decided not to give them a bigger entrance though.