Have you ever wondered what happens to bees in winter?
With the concerning decline of the bee population, and whilst we’re dusting off woolly socks and retrieving our thick coats from the back of the wardrobe the question arises of what happens to bees in winter and how can we help?
Honeybees have one main job during winter and that is to protect the Queen Bee. As temperatures outside drop below 10 degrees celsius, the queen stops laying and the worker bees head into the centre of the hive and form a cluster, much like a rugby scrum where they flap their wings and shiver to create heat, they also rotate so that no single bee gets cold. Honeybees are exothermic (cold blooded) like other insects, however honeybees don’t hibernate but much like us, they have plenty of work to do indoors although they do sometimes leave the hive still on warmer days. To keep their energy levels up and survive they must eat honey and will consume up to 30 pounds of stored honey over a winter season. To make 1 pound of honey, bees must visit 2 million flowers.
Honeybee colonies should survive a winter, but bumblebees have a much harder time. Some bumblebees continue to forage and pollinate flowers as late as November. The young queens then leave the nest, mate and hibernate to re-emerge the following spring to establish new colonies. Sadly less than half of bumblebee colonies survive the winter. Some bumblebees manage to stay active in warmer areas of the UK but most take their winter sleep in cracks, crevices, compost, soil and within log piles.
Solitary bees do hibernate. Some can be very small, so they can fit inside hollow sections of old plant stems.
All the more reason to be cautious when tidying up the garden…there may be a little stripy yellow sleeper who doesn’t want to be disturbed.
One way that you can help them is by installing bee hotels in your garden which are particularly good for hibernating solitary bees.
We created a bee hotel by drilling holes into the end of a discarded log. We then positioned the log amongst plants in a container planted up with bee friendly varieties.
Bee hotels shouldn’t be placed higher than 5’ because wasps lay in wait to attack bees as they emerge. They should be positioned in a sheltered spot, perhaps against a wall, in partial sunshine is fine. A patch of open soil or a 3ltr pot of mud must be placed nearby for the bees to use.
When considering plants it is good to bear in mind that bees can see purple more clearly than any other colour and will therefore be drawn to those flowers in particular. Some nectar-rich, bee-friendly plants that are great for containers or the border are…
Here are a few bee hotels that some of our customers and staff have made in their own gardens:
Now is a great time to get your orders in for some of these plants to be delivered early next year, you may also find some of them on our current surplus list. But bee quick before they fly off the shelves!
Fig1. ‘Klaus, der Bienenvater aus Böhmen‘ by Johann Nepomuk Oettl, 1857.