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Beekeeper’s Notes: Bees Live Four Times Longer In The Winter

Published on: 1 Dec, 2022
Updated on: 29 Nov, 2022

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon

It is probably the quietest time of the year for beekeepers. The bees are prepared for the winter, plenty of honey stores, a dry hive and enough fellow bees to last as a collective through until the spring.

They don’t hibernate during the cold weather, they just slow down and live longer.

Beehive opened up revealing the cluster of bees

A beehive opened up revealing the bees in a cluster, their way of keeping warm in the cold winter.

A bee in the summer has a life span of about six weeks. They work hard during their short time as an insect in an industrious hive, cleaning, foraging, defending the colony, processing the honey and tending the babies.

But the winter is different. They don’t have as many jobs to do and they don’t have to work as hard. So they can live for up to six months.

Their job is to get through the cold, barren period, to survive.

The queen reduces her egg laying from about August or September, more or less stopping around mid December, the winter solstice. The number of bees in the colony reduces as there are fewer new bees coming through. The colony would die out if the bees didn’t hang on.

We have fed sugar fondant in the upturned plastic tray to this colony because it didn’t have enough honey to last it through the winter. It is leaking out the side due to the heat coming from the bees below.

Food is crucial. A reasonably strong colony needs about 35 lbs, about 16 kgs, of honey to see it through to the spring.

They can’t run down to the shops to top up when it is warm enough to get out and about. But other than emptying their bowels and collecting water and tree sap for their propolis, there isn’t much more they can do outside.

Their job is to keep warm and fed and to be ready to burst into action as soon as all the lovely nectar and pollen is there again in the new year.

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