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Bee Happy!

Winterizing The Bees

Mary Reilly-Kliss


When winter comes, beekeepers can take steps to help their colonies survive Wisconsin’s cold temperatures. Recently, we winterized our hives at the Washington County Community Garden.


First, we removed the buckets of sugar water which the bees had been using for fall food and replaced them with “sugar patties”, basically slabs of sugar which the bees will eat over the winter. We then put an entrance reducer on each hive, put on insulation panels, and bade the ladies Godspeed for the winter. Whether or not they survive the winter is a mystery. Last year, both colonies survived, the winter before, neither one did. We won’t know until spring how they will fare this winter.


What is going on in the hive over winter? Funny you should ask. Just when we think we are knowledgeable about beekeeping, a WHOLE new topic comes up, and today I discovered “winter bees” from the website geesbees.ca which I credit for the following excellent information.


In the fall, the queen slowed down laying queen, drone, and worker eggs and instead laid “winter bee” eggs. These 'winter bees' are physically different from their summertime sisters, have a longer lifespan and have the special job of keeping the colony alive until spring. When they were larva, the winter bees were fed a diet that is scarce in protein (pollen), compared to the summertime bee larva that receive lots of pollen.


This pollen-scarce diet causes the winter bees to develop an extra-large ‘fat body’ - a special insect tissue that regulates their metabolism and produces vitellogenin, an amazing substance that enhances the bees’ immune system and increases its lifespan. This allows the winter bees to live 6 months instead of 6 weeks. Because of this difference in their physiology, they are considered a separate caste of bees - unique from the other three castes of bees: workers, drones, and queen. The winter bees are responsible for eating stored honey and stay awake all winter inside the hive, clustered together in a ball, eating honey, and shivering their flight muscles to generate heat.

Over the course of the winter, the colony gets smaller and smaller as the winter bees gradually reach the end of their lifespans. In the late winter, the queen will start laying eggs again, in preparation for spring. The queen does this slowly at first, so as to not lay more eggs than the colony can keep warm. The winter bees become responsible for incubating the brood, the larva for the summer bees.


As the temperatures get warmer and the colony gets bigger, the queen can start laying eggs in larger sections of the empty honeycomb. Come spring, the colony's population will quickly increase, especially as the first flowers bloom and the newly hatched spring bees start bringing fresh nectar and pollen back to the hive.


Thanks, Geesbees.ca, your information was incredibly interesting.


Entrance reducers are added to slow down the coming and going and to keep marauders such as mice from entering the hive over winter.


Sugar patties will provide winter food.


All wrapped up for winter!



















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