The Apiary as it was in November!!
Presently, the bees are being prepared for the Manitoba winter. Bees do not hibernate, but live actively throughout their four month confinement period requiring large stores of honey and pollen to sustain themselves. Come January, when days start lengthening, the queen bee in winter will start laying eggs and the hive will start raising baby bees to replace those that die. In the spring, a hive that comes though strong will be able to be split into thee new ones!
In Manitoba, winters comes with a vengeance when a sudden invasion of cold Arctic air spills in from the north. Only a few days ago, the bees were busy gathering pollen from volunteer canola that spilt and sprouted during the July harvest.
But that is only a memory. The bees will have to now settle in for the long dark winter ahead. Most of them will not live to see the spring. A few of the younger bees will, but none of the older bees will live to enjoy the rewards of their summer labour. Their memories of the summer flowers will die with them over the winter.
In every hive there is a cluster of 20 or 30 thousand bees and a single queen clustered together in a tight ball.
Bees on the outside of the cluster point the back ends to the cold with their heads towards the centre. Huddling tightly, they interlock their hairy bodies giving the cluster a "fur coat".
By shivering their wing muscles, they can generate warmth deep within. Each bee on the outside takes a shift and is replaced periodically with a bee from the centre.
November is a transition period from fall to winter. The hives have light insulation and the entrances are only partially blocked to protect the bees inside from the wind.
The bottom two boxes are filled with bees. The top box contains a pail of artificial nectar from which the bees are drinking. The bottom entrance is partially blocked to prevent the winter winds from blowing inside.
The consummate hoarders they are, at this time of the year they instinctively crave any source of sweetness even if it does not come from a flower. Their winter survival depends very much upon how much honey they can cram into their winter home.
The temperature at this time varies between -15 C and -5 C. It is too cold for the bees to forage and they will have to make do with what they have. This hive should have about 100 pounds of honey in it and 20 pounds of pollen to pull it through the winter.
A close up of the bottom entrance shows the bees clustering quietly. During the summer nothing can get this close without getting stung; but now their threat is not from hungry bears, but from old man winter. They must conserve their resources if they are to survive.
A bee that has died inside the hive has been dragged outside by its sisters. There is only room in the hive for the healthy and living. During summer, one of them would carry out "undertaker duty" and taken the body far away. But at these temperatures, bees cannot survive separated from the cluster. So the remains remain where it remains.
Eventually the wind will whisk the dead bee away where the birds and mice will find it a welcome snack. For these lucky scavengers, the energy that was once of the flower now warms their blood.
Success depends partially on what the bees decide to do during the winter - but mostly on how the beekeeper manages the hive in the fall. A beekeeper does his best to set them up for success but come the cold November days, the hive is on its own until March. During this time, nature has to take its course.
The winters can be cruel and unforgiving. There is unfortunately about a 15% failure rate where the hive consumes its stores and starves to death before the beekeeper can rescue them with emergency feed in the spring.