Bees Flying in Winter


 bee hives 

The sun came out the other day, and the bees went nuts. They hurried out of the hives and clouded the air. I walked right into their territory to pick some kale (bottom right) for lunch, and in just a few moments, I had bees crawling in my hair, on my clothes, and on my camera. Though I’m not the beekeeper in the family, I’m getting used to having bees up in my business, and I can generally just carry on with what I want to do. 


When it’s cold out, an entire bee colony will come together in a cluster around the queen for the purpose of conserving heat. While clustered, they only have access to the honey in the immediate vicinity of the group, so even sugar stores further away inside the hive won’t do them any good unless they can break cluster. 

If it’s warm enough for bees to get out of their hives at this time of year, there is pollen to be had. Red alder, chickweed, and hazelbrush/filberts are all blooming right now within foraging distance of our hives. Being able to bring these reserves home means Henry’s bees will need little or no sugar/protein supplementary feedings, and they can get a batch of brood going sooner rather than later.

Honeybees will break cluster at warmer temperatures (low 40s to 55 degrees depending on the type of bees), and then they can move around within the hive, or they can get out of the hive for a while. Henry prefers (and is breeding for) bees that will break cluster at lower temperatures because they will not only be able to forage earlier in the season, giving them a headstart on resource storage and brood rearing, but they also will have more opportunities to poop outside the hive instead of inside, which can prevent or lessen the prevalence of nosema (a unicellular parasite that acts like honeybee cholera). While monitoring bee pooping habits may seem a little obscure and gross, it’s pretty important. Once bees get nosema, they can’t hold their poo for very long, increasing the likelihood that they’ll relieve themselves inside the hive, which in turn increases the likelihood that affected bees will spread the disease to others in the colony. Unfortunately, in the photo below, you can see the yellow evidence of a hive affected by nosema.

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