We’ve just had a short cold snap here in the San Antonio area but in the next few days temperatures will be back in the 60’s. Of course we do get wintery weather but it never seems to last long. One thing that worries me is that my Honeybees will have enough stored honey in their hives to last over winter. Can’t open the hive when it’s cold so can’t check on their supplies!!
A lot of my concerns were put to rest after talking to several experts at last weeks Texas Beekeepers Association Annual Convention. Conveniently this was held in San Antonio, made it very easy for me to attend.
The running joke in beekeeping circles is that if you ask two beekeepers a question, you’ll get three answers. IT DEPENDS on your bees, their location, the weather, their stores, their population, your feelings…….. What’s a new beekeeper to do?
What I did get was a feeling of confidence that when we have fine, clear, sunny weather over our not so wintery South Texas winter I’ve got some wiggle room to check on my bees and give them what they need. I hate to think what new beekeepers in northern States must be feeling when they have months of really cold weather.
Bad Weather & Honeybees
When the weather is bad, honeybees are really quite sensible and stay warm & dry and snug in their hives. They don’t like wet, windy, cloudy weather & can apparently get quite angry if you try and “mess with them” when it’s like this. I certainly don’t want to make these girls mad and upset – not good for them or me!
It seems like if we are going to have a string of calm, sunny days in the 60’s or above, it’s a good time to do a very quick check in the hives and feed if necessary. The very last thing I want to happen is that the girls run out of stored food over winter and die of starvation!! If temperatures are below the mid 50s the bee are not going to be very active outside the hive, but they’ll still need to eat their stored reserves for energy. As a newish beekeeper I don’t yet have a feeling about how fast they can eat their way through their supplies when confined in their hive.
Honeybees are amazing creatures and one of the things they do to prepare themselves for winter is to hatch “winter bees”. Normally throughout the rest of the year bees only live about 6 weeks – they literally fly themselves to death! In the fall, however, the bees that hatch will survive until the Spring. They live for months & will huddle around the Queen in the center of the hive and keep warm over winter.
When we have fine, sunny days they will take turns to come out of the hive and poop. This behavior keeps the Queen safe and the hive nice and clean. Genetically I don’t have very good housekeeping genes, but genetics play a big part in Honeybee housekeeping traits. Some strains of bees will keep their hives super clean and therefore more disease resistant. Strong healthy bees will keep a hive cleaner than weak, sick bees too.
Winter Feeding for Honeybees
Remember that Honeybees turn nectar into honey by fanning it to evaporate water from the nectar. Cooler temperatures make this harder for the bees to do and risks them having too much moisture in the hive. Too much moisture in the hive over winter is very bad for honeybee health – mold and disease can devastate a hive.
We made a central feeder over the summer for both hives and the local bees to feed from. During the summer I use 1 part sugar:1 part water. As we moved into the Fall I changed that ratio to 2 parts sugar:1 part water. This makes it easier for the bees to turn it into honey and store it in the hive. This feeder will go out over this coming weekend – not entirely sure it’s necessary but my guts are telling me to do this in an overabundance of caution.
Another option I’ve only read about is making Honeybee Fondant – a little like candy making for bees! Bee Fondant is a dry source of sugar that you can put into a hive over winter & which won’t cause moisture problems in the hive. I may try and make some to keep in the freezer “just in case”. I think something like this is probably more important in more wintery States, but I like to be prepared!
The weather forecast looks like we’ll have about a week of temperatures in the 60s and 70s coming up. I’ll probably do a hive inspection some time in the middle of that period and hopefully get some new photos to share with you.