Winterization 2011- Part 1
Assessing your beehive in the fall: Things to look for
Whether you are a diligently observant beekeeper, a lovingly consistent bee inspector, or simply a bee-minder, there are very important things that you need to be looking for in the fall to ensure that your bees are well prepared for the winter season. By doing these things, you can increase the chances of survival of your beloved comrades, and get your fill in of their company before they disappear for the winter season. Remember, once they are wrapped, you won’t be getting in to the beehive at least until April!
Here is a list of ‘normal’ behaviour things to look for in your beehive in the fall!
Drone Culling: Drones have a very important purpose in the lifecycles of honeybees. As the carriers of important genetic material, they are the conduits of genetic information that is vital to the diversification and resiliency of future colonies. Drones are created in the early summer months and are raised from unfertilized eggs laid by the Queen with the purpose of spreading her genetic code to other colonies. A queen and a colony will primarily lay drones when there is an abundance of surplus of nectar and pollen, and the health of the hive is at its highest. Because drones do not take part in pollination or in the nursing of young bees, they are a drain on the resources of the hive, and therefore will not be tolerated within the beehive for the fall, winter and spring months. The limited storage of pollen and honey are put to better use with the more efficient and hive supportive members of the colony: the female workers and the queen. In the fall you will see drones being shoved and or dragged out of the hive and left for dead. This is a natural progression of the hives lifecycle. These drones offer sustenance to other members of the habitat: wasps, birds, and small animals before the winter comes.
Entrance Protection: You should notice a stronger and more assertive group of guard bees at the entrance of the beehive in the fall. Why is this? This is because honeybee populations are still high in the early fall, but the amount of pollen and nectar available to forage on has decreased to very small amounts. The bees not only become more inquisitive for alternative sources of nourishment, but are also seeking out opportunities to Rob neighbouring communities. Robbing is a common concern for honeybees as they enter in to the fall. If the colony is weak in the fall and is incapable to protecting their entrance, they may fall victim of either another honeybee colony looting their stores, or of wasps coming in and stealing their young, nectar, and pollen. To solve this problem, many colonies may put up a visible blockade made of wax and or propolis to close off parts of the entrance and or show greater fervour in checking the bees entering the beehive.
Brood Nest Size: As the sunlight hours diminish in the fall, and the quantities of nectar and pollen coming in to the hive decrease, these factors become ques for the queen to decrease the quantity of eggs she lays. The decreased size of brood nest allows for the populations of the beehive to slowly diminish in to the fall and also increase the spacial access for pollen and honey storage in the brood nest locations without the necessity of building more wax or expanding the hive size. This is a very important part of fall because the colony must be at just the right size for the amount of honey stores available to the colony as well as large enough to keep the colony warm throughout the year. Too large may cause them to starve out, and too small may cause them to freeze to death. This is the important risk that the beehive is concerned about when entering the fall!
Hygienic Behaviour: In the spring and in the fall, the beehive will engage in a fervour for cleaning the beehive. This is because the bees in the hive, throughout the winter, move slowly to maintain energy and are incapable of breaking cluster to tidy up the hive, making them particularly susceptible to disease and stress. So, by cleaning out the hive, the bees are taking preventative measures to ensure their hive is clear of fungi and viruses that may take over in the sensitive winter months. This is an inherent behaviour that bees have in these seasons. There is a lot of news about hygienic bees, that bees can be bred to be specifically better cleaners then generic honeybees. I would like you to have a read about Epigenetics at this link here. The story is about people in Sweden, but the importance of the story in regards to bees is that learned behaviours and environmental factors can be expressed within a few generations within genetic codes. It is all very interesting; but the real lesson is to trust that the bees are working in a higher and more sophisticated level then we currently understand.
Clustering: Honey bees will begin to cluster at temperatures below 18C in the fall. So this means that when you look in to your beehive at these times, your hive will look as though man of the bees have disappeared. This is because the bees in the hive have compressed in to a small ball