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

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