December 10, 2012

How quick does the cold kill bees?

"How much does the cold shorten the bees' lives?" was the actual question.

"None; they live longer," was my answer. Actually it was more like this...

Summer bees live about 6 weeks; they work themselves to death. Winter bees live maybe a few months; they don't fly much when it's cold so they live longer.

What worries me is not the cold, but starvation. When the weather is 20° above normal, like it's been, the bees are pretty active and burning calories. They're out flying but there's nothing in flower to feed on, so they eat up their honey.

On the other hand, when it's really cold, if they're huddled for warmth and can't move to go get food for 3 days — that's all it takes — then they can starve with honey just a beespace away. It's called isolation starvation.

So, I guess my answer was really, "3 days." Which is why, with fingers crossed, I put fondant into the Warré Hive. Winter finally arrived in the Backyard, with a rapid descent from 20-above to 20-below average. If the bees can't break cluster — or possibly two clusters if the weather shift was too quick for them to get organized — they just might be starving to death, with food over their heads. If only the temperatures would be average, that would be ideal. In the mid-40s, they go into a sort of stasis. More on that later... in the meantime, here's something for you to read: How a Second-Year Beekeeper Prepares for Spring


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