Bees in the freezing cold


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Nucs | Posted on 13-12-2010

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Unusually, our part of North Essex has been spared the worst ravages of the recent cold snap. Since moving “t’ country” we’ve quickly grown used to annual snowfall and the realisation that in some places 4x4s really are used to get out of muddy fields. But this year, strangely, we’ve seen barely a light covering of snow where near neighbours have had at least a foot. And while it’s certainly been cold, the temperature hasn’t yet dipped into the minus double-digits (touch wood), as it has in so many other parts.

Nevertheless, it’s been cold enough for me to worry about the bees. This being my first winter with them I’ve been heavily dependent on text books and outside advice – which has generally been to leave them alone. So I have… sort of.

Initially, I just poked my head round the corner of the summer house, behind and to one side of both hives and well out of their field of vision. The total absence of activity however, lead me to become bolder, and just recently I haven’t stopped short of squatting down and almost peering in through the entrance.

On each of these occasions a sort of fizzing sound from within has reassured me that the main colony is alive. The absence of any sound from the nuc has been less encouraging, though.

On Sunday I trotted round the corner to discover quite a distressing sight: dozens of dead insect bodies strewn across the ground outside the main colony. Having recently written about the threat of Asian hornets I confess that my first reaction (quite illogically, given the weather) was that the hive had come under attack. But of course it hadn’t. As my friend and fellow (though vastly more experienced) beekeeper Deryck explained to me later that evening, Saturday had been sunny and comparatively warm. So the bees flew out. Then it turned cold and many couldn’t make it back inside in time. Deryck explained that it was an almost common sight in winter, and in many respects a healthy sign that the colony was alive and going about its business. But to me there was something pitiful about the sight of the few stragglers stuck to the side of the hive, their wings outstretched and frozen. It was also noticeable that there were no dead bodies outside the nuc.


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