I walk past my hives each morning on these dark rainy days. It is the path I take for the morning routine to feed my chickens. Where the chickens are noisy in anticipation of their breakfast, all is silent at the hives. No movement, no rich smell of honey emanating from the many coloured boxes.
Are they sleeping? Many people ask me this, wondering what is happening with our little pollinator friends. There is much concern for the little honeybee and people want to know how they are faring.
No, is my response, not sleeping, I can’t see them, and will not dare open the hive on these cold days but I know, or at least hope that the bees are in their cluster. They are in the center of the hive, with their precious queen at the center. She takes a break from laying her 2500 eggs a day and rests in a comfortable 30 degrees Celsius, practically tropical despite the cooler outside temperature. So no, the bees don’t sleep, they fan their wings and generate heat, taking turns like the penguins in the frozen south, they maneuver from the inside to the outside of the cluster. I do admire their devotion to each other, what an organized and selfless group! They all work together as they do throughout the year.
These bees, all females, they kicked out the drones earlier in the fall, will eat the honey that they have stored, eat and fan and never poop! Cleanliness is the protocol and all adhere to the set guidelines, they wait for the day when that the sun shines on the hive and raises the temperature above 10 degrees and they can relieve themselves…ahhh don’t hang your laundry that day!
As a beekeeper I have learned that there are many ways that people care for their bees. I am learning from a seasoned beekeeper, Zdenka Cukor who tells me she has had bee hives all her life. It was not uncommon in her homeland of Croatia to have a few hives, many people did. From the stories that I hear from others it was common here too years ago. It is the granddad’s or grandma’s who had hives. We seemed to have skipped a generation. Was this because honey could more easily be purchased from the store? The baby boomer generation doesn’t have the stories about direct contact with caring for bees that their parents did. This is changing though. There is much talk and within our community about getting a hive. Our bee club has seen a significant increase in members. We no longer are a group of older, largely European men, it is young families and multigenerational, fathers and sons mothers and daughters who have taken up the gamble of becoming bee keepers.
So I am not alone as I wait out the winter months, hoping that my bees have enough honey, that the varroa mites aren’t nibbling away at the remaining bees, that the queen will resume her laying in time to raise the next generation of bees before these heat producing girls who keep the hive alive for the winter wear out and die in the early spring. As bee keepers we roll the dice and hope for a winner hive that will return in the spring and start up the cycle once more!