While we all hunker down for winter in our lockdown world, spare a thought for the honey bees who do the same every year to stay warm and alive. During winter, in our three hives, the worker bees huddle together facing inwards to form a cluster around the Queen and her brood to keep warm. Snuggling-up like this they can create a temperature of 35C in the hive.
You would need a good rest over winter too if you’d flown 55,000 miles and pollinated 2 million flowers just to fill a jar of honey! See our Bee Facts at the end of this page.
This is our first winter with bees, as Mark started his bee keeping journey in March 2021.
Below is Mark’s diary from his first year.
Last year, 2020, was my first year as a beekeeper. To my great surprise it all went rather well, and from a few frames of bees in April, I ended up with four colonies of bees and 50 lbs of honey by August, when the season here begins to die down. I gave one of my colonies away and now have three hives full of bees hunkering down for the winter and waiting for the spring to start again and get as ‘busy as a bee can be’, as Arthur Askey popularised years ago in his Bee Song.
I have discovered that the bee keepers’ year has four seasons:
Getting Ready, March & April – the colonies need to be fed with sugar syrup so they can expand from the 10,000 or so bees per hive of over-wintering bees, to 60,000 by mid-summer.
Summer Madness, May, June, July – bees’ natural method of propagation is to swarm, so it is going to happen around now. As a beekeeper, you need to manage the process if you want to keep hold of you bees. You can trick them into thinking they have swarmed, but it needs careful weekly inspections and quick action. This is also prime honey production time.
- Experiencing a swarm is quite an exciting and daunting phenomenon. We watched the swarm circle around our front garden finding somewhere to land. Luckily, they chose our Medlar tree which is low down so easier for me to shake them off their branch. Thousands of surprisingly docile bees all attach to each other to form a large cone shape that hangs down from a branch. I used a skep – an old-fashioned beehive made of straw – to collect them, after knocking them off their perch, and then took them to a spare hive I had, all ready for this to happen.
Winding Down, Aug, Sept, Oct – you need to make sure that the bees have enough ‘stores’ – honey or similar – to feed them through the long winter months. To do this you weigh the hives and feed as necessary. You also need to protect the hives, from the damp, wax moths, over-wintering mice, and woodpeckers.
Hunkering Down, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb – bees are best left alone at this time of year, once you have checked them for varroa mites and treated them if necessary. Feeding sugar fondant and pollen as necessary to help them survive. Up to 10% of colonies don’t survive the winter.
My biggest surprises were: that pollen comes in so many colours; that worker bees know what jobs they have to do each day of their short lives; and that harvesting your own honey could be quite so satisfying.
Now for Year Two!
1 -3 kms is typical, up to 5 kms is possible. A worker bee flies up to 500 miles in a life.
17 – 28 kms per hour, less when carrying pollen home, with wings beating at 200 times per second.
Flying hours to produce a pound of honey
55,000 miles and 2 million flowers with over 22,000 trips with 500 bees involved to produce 1lb (450gs) of honey.