For beekeepers, the passage of individual seasons is governed by the sequence of critical flowering plants and trees throughout. With Autumn here; it’s the turn of flowering Ivy – the last primary source of nectar and pollen for our Bee Good Honeybees and dozens of other insect species, providing a final feed before they hibernate for the winter.
The emergence of the Ivy also reminds me that it’s time to prepare the Bee Good colonies for the coming winter. While most insects will either overwinter as eggs, or hibernate in isolation until next Spring, Honeybees are unusual as they stay active in their hives throughout the winter. From a peak of 50-80,000 individual Bees in June, the colony’s number falls to a low of 5-8,000 female worker bees plus their Queen by Christmas.
These winter workers are much bigger than their summer sisters and will live for 5-6 months instead of 6 weeks. Their role is to maintain the colony and their Queen in a healthy state until the following Spring and they feed on honey and pollen gathered earlier in the year, which is stored in the combs near the top of the hive.
An essential skill for any beekeeper is to ensure that each colony has sufficient food stores to last them until next Spring. When we harvest the main crop in August, we always ensure that the bees are left with a full honey super box as insurance against a hard winter, in addition to the honey previously stored in the main brood box.
We inspect each hive for the last time this year, merging weaker colonies or providing sugar syrup for any low stores before firmly strapping down the hives before the Autumn storms. A final job is to place netting around the hives to prevent any hungry woodpeckers from attacking the colonies later in the year.
As the natural world enters its Autumnal slumber; we leave the bees alone and undisturbed in their hives until next March, safe in the knowledge that we’ve done all we can to help them through the coming winter.