What happens to bees in winter?

Students in Colorado State University’s bee clubs have been busy … as bees… this year.

In April 2018, about a dozen students placed honey bees in new hives outside the Durrell Dining Center. Later in the year, they harvested one gallon of honey from the hives, which was served at the Colorado Harvest dinner on campus in September.

More recently, Freddie Haberecht in the Warner College of Natural Resources and Christina Geldert, a first-year student in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program got the bee hives ready for winter.

Do bees hibernate?

Bees do not hibernate in winter. They slowly and continuously flex their wings, creating vibrations that keep themselves and the hive warm throughout the winter.

Geldert and Arathi Seshadri, special assistant professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences, shared tips with SOURCE on how to winterize a bee hive.

How to prepare your bee hives for the winter?

1)      You must insulate the hive during winter. You can use black tar paper, which is also used in roofing and can be purchased at your local hardware store. Wrap the tar paper around the hive and staple it in place to keep the cover secure.

2)      Insulate the hive between October and late November, when temperatures at night begin to fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and days are consistently chilly. In Colorado, temperatures change very rapidly. It is best to prepare the hive by inspecting for mites and gauging bee strength. You should have nearly a full hive of bees, honey and pollen, heading into the winter.

3)      Leave some honey in the hive. Since bees do not hibernate during the winter, they will feed on the honey. Bees need 80 to 100 pounds of honey over the winter.

4)      Remove sugar water containers. This needs to be done a few days before the cold spell sets in. Monitor the weather a week in advance to plan for “winterizing” activities. The sugar solution for the bees should be two parts sugar to one part water for the winter, to ensure it does not freeze in low temperatures. (The recipe for the summer sugar water is usually 20 percent sugar and 80 percent water.)

5)      Leave an opening, so that the bees can get out on warm days.

6)      Do not open the hive if it is windy or if temperatures are below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

7)      On warmer days — when temperatures are around 50 degrees for a number of days — replace the sugar water containers, and the bees will come outside to forage.

8)      Remove the insulation (tar paper) in early February or March, and provide fresh sugar water for the bees as we head into spring.

Learn more about Seshadri’s research. 

Read a story, and watch video from the installation of the hives in April 2018.

Haberecht is president of CSU’s Apiculture Club and Geldert serves as the club’s vice president. She is also the president and founder of the Honey Bee Veterinary Medicine Club at CSU, the first club of its kind at a veterinary school in the United States.