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Bee slogging through winter

Been pretty quiet lately… bees got out for a poop yesterday here in Ohio…

Any thoughts/commentary on the ability to bees to overwinter in consistently cold (no flying days for months) vs up and down weather with occasional flying and pooping days vs intermittently cold (with no forage) but many flying days?

I am wondering about diseases/pests like nosema, chalkbrood, SHB, and varroa as well as colony metabolic rate and any other musings…

This is on my mind too Alok. Rusty Berlew discusses this very helpfully in this post on her Honey Bee Suite blog from a few years ago:

Seems to me that weather inconsistencies have increased 11 years later. So it makes me wonder about the effects of many flying days with no forage too.

I’ve read that post too. It seems that colonies that are overwintered indoors can make it through with less food and without pooping for months. Maybe @Doug1 had some insight.

There’s also the university of Guelph video on indoor overwintering.

Indoor overwintering

You’re so lucky Alok…I always hope my hives will get a flight in November but it didn’t happen this year. If it does warm up enough for them to fly…and for about 3 consecutive days…they not only cleanse but also bring in water which they so desperately need in my climate during winter. Then the hives calm down for another 6 weeks of inactivity. If the hives don’t get the opportunity to fly, they slowly become more easily agitated and signs of this occur:

The two reasons given for the behavior illustrated in the photo above are:

  1. nosema outbreak
  2. dysentry

But my observations make me believe that for my dry, cool climate, something else has happened and that is the bees have become so desperate for water that the hive will artificially increase metabolism of honey just to access the moisture released in that process. The effects of this last-resort stress-induced action of the hive to get moisture results in defecation inside or on the surface of the hive near the entrance. There are a few scientific articles alluding to this theory…perhaps our expert on beehive studies ABB can add to what I’ve observed.

In any case, increasing the ambient moisture and providing required ventilation inside my wintering beehouse almost eliminates this defecation issue…but the bees are sure anxious to get out and fly (cleanse) when the first warm days of spring start melting snow.

The bees can handle 5 months of confinement…after 4 months they start getting real ansy (end of February)…6 months and you could loose that critical hive population mass that provides for a spring buildup. Ventilation requirements inside the beehouse increase as spring approaches. So I think you should be fine…you have a much shorter winter.

Photo below are hives being inspected for the first time in the spring…after 4 months of confinement…snow still on the ground…no defecation on equipment. It’s important to have a large population of “winter bees” (long lived) established before winter…hence my reliance on supplemental protein patties in the fall to rear a few extra rounds of brood.