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A Hard Winter in the Hive

By Deb Crockett, Senior Program Director

If you think winter has been hard on you, be glad you aren’t a honeybee!  The more that I learn about honeybees, the more amazed I am by their strategies and adaptations to make it through the winter.   Clustered in a tight group the size of a softball, the worker bees rotate from the inside to the outside to maintain the temperature of the core, protecting the queen from winter chills. 

 I am always eager, on a warm winter’s day, to check the hives to see if there is any activity.  The bees “hold it in” all winter, only flying out on warm days to defecate and do other hive cleaning.  When the temperatures hit the high 50s last month, I went out to check our two top bar hives.  I was pleased to see that one was active, but saddened that we had lost our other hive to cold winter weather. 

 Since it was just days before our Introduction to Beekeeping workshop, Kellie and I lugged the hive inside so that our beekeeper instructor, Phillip Raines, could give a diagnosis of why the hive didn’t make it through the winter. 

 We could see the bees clustered near the front of the hive, just inches from fresh honey.  It must have just been too cold to break the cluster to make it to nourishment.  Look in the photo for the tiny bee bottoms as the girls licked the last bits of honey out of the cells.

 What next?  We cut comb filled with honey from the hive, and stored in gallon glass jars.  Come spring, visitors from the farm will crush the comb, and use the honey to make ice cream and cornbread. 

 Any empty, straight combs will be kept to provide a head start for a new colony.  On warm days, we’ll invite the bees from the live hive to glean any remaining honey.  This should help them bridge the next two months until early spring brings reliable blooms. 

 We melted the remaining comb to remove impurities, and saved the clean wax for making lip balm and candles.  

Honey Jars