Keeping the Hive Alive During Winter

It Takes At Least 90 Pounds of Honey to Keep a Colony of Bees Alive Throughout the Winter

SUPERIOR, Wisc. – When you think of honey, a cute plastic bottle shaped like a bear probably comes to mind.

But do you ever stop to think about how much work it took to produce the product?

In just a few short weeks, snow will melt and flowers will force their way from the ground.

You may think a honeybee hibernates or dies off during the winter.

Instead, it takes a team of 30,000 to 80,000 bees to stay warm and ready for a new season.

“Honeybees in the wintertime spend almost their entire day simply eating honey, beating their wing muscles, generating enough heat so the temperature
within the hive stays anywhere from 80-90 degrees,” said Dr. Edward Burkett, Professor of Biology and Apiary Manager at UWS.

Imagine a mini tropical vacation; a cluster of worker bees tightly attached to this piece of a manmade hive.

Throughout the summer, honeybees work to survive during the colder months.

“The nectar is going to be converted into honey; the pollen is going to be used as a protein source,” said Burkett.

Burkett says it takes at least 90 pounds of stored honey to keep a hive alive all winter long.

“They consume honey and as they consume honey they generate heat by beating their wing muscles,” said Burkett.

This cluster of consumers helps keep the queen warm as well as her offspring, but danger never stops from knocking at the door.

“Once the temperature on the outside of the cluster reaches about 45 degrees, the bees become paralyzed,” said Burkett.

This colony can never take a day off. Dr. Burkett says the bees will work nonstop to keep their home warm. But it’s not just the temperature determining life or death. Condensation also kills.

“One of the byproducts of this beating of the wings is the production of water,” said Burkett.

When warm air from the bees rises it eventually meets cold air at the top of the hive. This creates moisture which drips down on to the cluster.

“You also have to make sure that you’re providing your bees with enough ventilation so that there’s a constant movement of fresh air in the bottom of the hive,” said Burkett.

Despite so many factors and precise action before winter sets in, Dr. Burkett says becoming a beekeeper is extremely beneficial to the environment.

“To successfully raise bees in a sustainable fashion requires a significant amount of knowledge,” said Burkett.

Experts say every year the bee population is declining by nearly 50 percent. With the power of people, this number could bounce back if we all work together like a colony of honeybees.

If you’re interested in becoming a beekeeper, you’re advised to register for one of Dr. Burkett’s beekeeping workshops.

These are a matter of one to three hours and will teach you the basics of beekeeping.

It costs roughly $450 to get started with beekeeping.

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