In fact bee colonies, so long as they are of a minimum critical size, can tolerate cold conditions quite well. Other risks in winter, once any argy-bargy from wasps in the autumn is passed, are starvation, dampness in the hive, predation, often from mice, and infestation from varroa virus. There are ways each of these risks can be mitigated, however.
During the winter honey bees do not hibernate; they remain awake. They keep warm by clustering together and protecting the queen in the middle of the huddle. Being largely confined to the hive they rely on their honey reserves for food and energy. But like many people who keep bees, I supplement their food supplies. At this time of the year fondant is commonly provided, placed over a hole in the crown board which covers the frames. Bees can draw on fondant from below through the hole. The hive lid or roof covers the top of the hive as protection from the weather.
The temptation to take a peek at the bees in winter has to be resisted as a sudden drop in temperature in the hive, and certainly any disturbance of the cluster, could prove fatal to the colony.
A week or so ago, on a mild day when I was digging up some leeks, I saw a honey bee flying. Bees do sometimes venture out during the winter if temperatures rise above about 10 degrees centigrade. I do not claim to recognise every one of 'my' bees on sight but since it was only about 100 feet from the hives I'm pretty sure it was one of mine. Which was reassuring.
|Winter forage at this time of the year is available if the weather is warm |
enough for bees to venture out.Photo by Ian A. Kirk via creative common licence