This month has started, as winter should, with beautiful frosty weather. Now the bees cluster together rather like Penguins do, in order to keep warm. They can, by rapidly contracting and relaxing their flight muscles, keep the cluster at a fairly constant 350 C. These are now the ‘winter bees’ which live for months rather than weeks providing they have enough stores when they can all to easily starve to death.
In order to ensure this doesn’t happen we occasionally check their stores by lifting the hives gently and judging the weight. Too light and we give them some fondant, basically the icing you get on the top of an iced bun, to keep them going. Never do we give them syrup at this time of the year the liquid would create humidity which could spell disaster. Bees can cope with cold but not a humid atmosphere.
If the weather warms up as it seems to these days the bees will venture out and gather pollen and nectar from any winter flowering plant. One of the best is Sarcococca confusa (Christmas Box) which flowers throughout the winter. Evergreen and totally hardy; on a warm day the perfume from its small cream flowers wafts over the entire garden. Black berries follow.
A bit of beelore
There used to be a tradition of giving each colony a gift of fondant on Christmas Day, and very importantly we ‘tell’ our bees its Christmas and wish them a very happy one!