All the bees are now home in their Winter quarters. We try to put them into sites that can see the sun between midday and 2pm, given that the morning sun warms the hive up and the midday sun will make the front of the hive much warmer. A sunny site improves the morale of the colony and it also allows the bees to make cleansing flights regularly as they are wintering on heather honey they will need to relieve themselves once a month – hopefully not onto someone’s washing or newly polished car!
Too much sun on a day when there is snow on the ground inevitably means that many thousands of healthy bees will perish when they alight on the snow. Similarly if bees need to cross a river in search of pollen (alders and willow) many will be lost when they when they come near the surface of the water because it is at a much lower temperature (snow melt). There are times when the sun goes behind a cloud in Winter that honey bees will drop from the sky whilst on a foraging trip (water) and many will never get going again (chilled).
The bees cluster within the hive and the cluster becomes much tighter as the temperature goes down. In nearly every month during the Winter there will be brood that needs to be kept warm (32-36°C). The bees on the outside of the cluster will rotate with others nearer the centre to get warmed up, very like penguins in a snowstorm. There are always a few bees that stay alert and mobile during the daytime even at temperatures of perhaps 6°C. This is so that if a predator comes round or a human touches the hive they can sting them with great speed and accuracy (often in the eye). This is because they know they are very vulnerable in the Winter when they are clustered. During the summer they might take a more relaxed attitude knowing that they could deal with the unknown through force of numbers. These bees that stay awake will also be able to detect fresh pollen on Winter blossom at some distance and mobilise sufficient worker bees to collect all the pollen that is available at very low temperatures when all the others are sleeping (torpid). They have been seen to collect pollen from Christmas roses on or around Christmas Day. They need the pollen to build the bodies of the juveniles that they are rearing to sustain the colony into Spring.
Honey bees are constantly making decisions even in the dead of Winter. They do not hibernate.