Monday, January 18, 2010

Warming Weather

Honey bees form a cluster for warmth as the temperature falls to 57 degrees. They remain in the cluster until the temperature outside rises to about 50. At this point, the bees fly from the hive to make cleansing flights; as they never defecate inside the hive. The bees also make scouting flights, checking for any flowers that may be in bloom. These warm breaks in the weather are good for the bees’ health; the cleansing flights help prevent dysentery. However, when the bees fly in the winter, they expend extra energy and consume more of their precious honey stores. Warm weather in winter can lead to starvation. A honey bee colony requires a considerable amount of honey to fuel the heat to warm the winter cluster. The colony does not waste energy warming its entire hive, though; it only warms the cluster of bees. Even greater demand for food will occur as the colony begins to produce brood. To conserve stores of honey, the bees allow the winter cluster to cool to about 70 degrees if there is no brood present. When the queen begins laying eggs again, the bees will raise the cluster temperature to 95 degrees. This means a greater consumption of honey stores. Both increased flight activity and greater warming of the winter cluster put the colony at increased risk of starvation during the late winter and early spring.

Near one of my bee yards adjacent to a lake, I rescued a large water snake from the still-frozen surface. The warm temperatures brought the non-venomous snake from its winter home near the water. When the snake ventured onto the frozen lake, it chilled and quit moving. After a while in the sun, the snake was moving again. Come spring, it will be ready to resume its job of holding down the rodent population along the lake bank. At Peace Bee Farm we work with nature. Black rat snakes and speckled king snakes help protect the hives.


  1. Hi Richard,
    I just came across your blog, and I really like it. I have three over-wintering hives in central Missouri. I had four, but one was, in retrospect, queenless and the cluster was small and froze solid in our recent spell of single digit weather. That hive had two hive bodies full of capped honey and pollen. I froze it until warmer weather. Now the temperature is in the mid 40s, possible into the low 50s on Sunday. Would you recommend opening the other hives and distributing these unused resources to them? if so, how should the frames be placed relative to the cluster to ensure that is it used properly? Bret in Missouri

  2. Bret,
    The most useful place for honey stores to be placed in a hive is in the center and above the winter cluster of bees. With temperatures in the 40s, it would not be a good idea to break down the brood nest to place frames of honey in there. This might overly chill the bees. However, with temperatures in the mid-40s and low-50s, you could briefly remove the covers and place the entire box on top of the existing hive without chilling the bees. The bees would have the capped honey to eat, and they would be able to protect the frames from wax moths and other hive scavengers.

    Once the weather warms later in the spring, you can rearrange boxes and the frames. Yesterday, I found two dead colonies similar to yours. I will let strong hives eat the honey and protect the frames of comb. If you protect the comb after the loss of one colony, you can reuse it a little later in the spring to re-establish another colony. Good luck.