When temperatures in the winter drop below 10 degrees, the honeybees retreat to their hives and form a winter cluster to keep warm. Essentially they are having a 3 month long slumber party, but it’s not all fun and games. The fate of the hive depends on how sufficiently they have prepared themselves for the winter.
Honeybees are divided into three castes: workers, drones and queens. In the winter the male drones die off, leaving only the female castes: the workers and the queen.
The all-female swarm of bees crowd together tightly, with the queen at the warmest section, the worker bees shake and shiver around to maintain survivable heat. Temperatures can reach between 32-37 degrees.
In order to sustain this heat and for the worker bees at the surface of the cluster to get sufficient warmth the swarm crawls and climbs in formation around the hive to reach their reserves of honey.
For sustainable beekeepers it is essential not to take all of the honey from the hive, as the honeybees depend on their honey reserves for energy to survive the winter. During extremely cold days, sugar in the form of syrup or a bee fondant can be used to help the bees thrive.
When the first sign of spring appears it is a warm welcome to see the honeybees free from their hive and once again collecting pollen for the next winter.