Beekeeping For Dummies
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What goes on in a beehive during winter? For the most part, the queen is kept warm surrounded by thousands of her workers, collectively referred to as a winter cluster.

The winter cluster first appears in the brood chamber when ambient temperatures reach 54 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit. When cold weather arrives, the cluster forms in the center of the two hive bodies. It covers the top bars of the frames in the lower chamber and extends over and beyond the bottom bars of the frames in the food chamber.

Although the temperature outside may be freezing, the center of the winter cluster remains a constant 92 degrees Fahrenheit. The bees generate heat by "shivering" their wing muscles.

No drones are in the hive during winter, but some worker broods begin appearing late in the winter. Meanwhile, the bees consume about 50 to 60 pounds of honey in the hive during the winter months. They eat while they are in the cluster, moving around as a cluster whenever the temperature gets above 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. They can move to a new area of honey only when the weather is warm enough for them to break the cluster.


Your winter beekeeping to-do list

Winter is the slowest season of your beekeeping cycle. You’ve already prepared your colony for the kinds of weather that your part of the world typically experiences. So, now is the time to do the following:
  • Monitor the hive entrance. Brush off any dead bees or snow that blocks the entrance.

  • Make sure the bees have enough food! The late winter and early spring are when colonies can die of starvation.

    Late in the winter, on a nice, mild day when there is no wind and bees are flying, take a quick peek inside your hive. It's best not to remove any frames. Just have a look-see under the cover. Do you see bees? They should still be in a cluster in the upper deep. Are they okay?

    If you don’t notice any sealed honey in the top frames, you may need to begin some emergency feeding. But remember that once you start feeding, you cannot stop until the bees are bringing in their own pollen and nectar.

  • Clean, repair, and store your equipment for the winter.

  • Attend bee club meetings, and read all those back issues of your favorite bee journals.

  • Order package bees and equipment (if needed) from a reputable supplier.

  • Try a bee-related hobby. The winter is a good time for making beeswax candles, brewing some mead, and dreaming of spring!

Your wintertime commitment for your hive

Not much is going on with bees during winter. They are in their winter cluster, toasty and warm inside the hive. Figure on spending two to three hours repairing stored equipment, plus whatever time you may spend on bee-related hobbies or attending bee-club meetings. You might even decorate your hive for the holidays. Just don’t cover the ventilation holes!


About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

C. Marina Marchese is an author, beekeeper, and honey sensory expert. She is also the founder of the American Honey Tasting Society and the Red Bee ® brand.

Howland Blackiston is the bestselling author of Beekeeping For Dummies and Building Beehives For Dummies, and founding board member and past president of Con­necticut’s Back Yard Beekeepers Association.

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