Beekeeping Bees Hive Maintainance

Winter Peeking: The Honeybee Cluster

winter honeybee cluster
The honeybees cluster in a ball for warmth in the winter. The queen is in the very center, kept toasty at 95 degrees. The cluster expands and moves during warmer days and contracts tightly and stays put in freezing temps.

Last week it was a balmy day in December, 50 degrees. Weird for us, but the bees were happy and flying outside the hive. They were taking cleansing flights and exploring a bit around the yard. I found a few perched on the birdbath taking in a bit of water. It was the perfect day to go in and check on their sugar supplies that I had added to the hive only a couple of months ago. I was curious what the winter honeybee cluster would look like.

Ever so gingerly I lifted the top lid of the hive. Then I saw it, the cluster was near the top and all of the reserve food I placed in the hive a couple of months earlier was either consumed or moved lower down into the hive by the bees. It was the perfect time to add more.

During warmer weather, bees can consume sugar syrup. Typically it is a 1:1 ratio in the spring and a 2:1 ratio in the fall. However, once temperatures dip below freezing, it is time to use alternative methods. Mountain camp, fondant, and candy boards are a few techniques used here in the Northeast. Certainly the intention is not for the bees to rely on this food. The sugar supply is nearly a back up, to help stave off hunger and death in case the bees exhaust their own supply of honey stores in the hive.

This time around I used fondant, as the cluster was already near the top of the hive just below the quilting box. Being careful not to disrupt the bees, I quickly placed soft pieces of fondant around the cluster and then closed up the hives, and snapped a quick photo with my phone (above).

This fondant will hopefully last another couple of months. I will not take a peek inside the hive for at least another month or two.

Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest

  • You are one busy industrious person. Were you always so in tune to chickens and bees, things in nature before you lived on your farm?
    I know how much I had to learn when we moved to Mt. We had 20 acres out on Canyon Ferry Lake south of Helena. What did I know about propane tanks, pressure tank, well pumps? I learned quickly not to flush the toilet when we were having summer lightning storm. Some of neighbors had their well pump blown out when they flushed, lightning was drawn to it. Those storms were quite terrifying out there by myself, worse than storms, thunder, lightning in Tucson when I was a kid.
    When we lived in KY power went out anytime wind blew, rained. I knew to turn computer off and light oil lamps so I'd have lights in house. Lived out in country then also. Since we left San Diego in '92 we've lived out in country, MT, KY now western CO. Have you always lived in Northeast US?
    Do you have that Brite Tap chicken waterer? Do you like it better than others? We've had cold weather so water has been freezing during day. Hubs has been leaving the light on for them all day/night to keep them warm. We had to insulate coop area more so they were warmer. Know not to do too much so air is circulating. We got some info how to take care of them from Tractor Supply. We mostly buy food/scratch for them there, get big bags to last for while. Had to secure them better as mice were getting into their food and treats. I've never had chickens before since I was a city slicker. lol. Really enjoy them.
    Hope your holidays were wonderful, you've had some hard storms up there haven't you? Happy New Year

    • Thanks for such a lovely note! My earliest years were spent on my best friend's farm. I think it's easiest to be in tune when you are passionate about things.I do have the BriteTap Water and really like it. Although it currently cannot be used in the freezing temperatures, so I use it in the summer to keep the water nice and cool. We are in for some freezing temps later this week and snow. I think winter is officially here! Happy New Year to you and I hope you continue to enjoy your chicken adventures.

  • I think you're living my life. *grin* I got chickens last year and they're thriving, in spite of the frigid weather. I even have a couple of cuddlers in the flock, so when I add bees (which I hope won't be too far in the future) my life will truly be complete.