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Winter Solstice...the beginning of the bee season!

In the dead of winter, it’s difficult to see how spring could be just around the corner. Here in Charlotte, NC it’s not much different than the rest of the southeastern US. Average daily temperatures range well below the temperature needed to open hives (55 degrees) without harming the bees. However, this moment marks a change that makes for a shift that will lead into spring and thus summer.

This change is none other than Winter Solstice. It is the moment in the year when the days go from becoming shorter to longer. For most of us it means that the coldest weather of the winter hasn’t come yet. For the bees however, this means that the spring is coming and it’s time to prepare for the warmer days to come.

Everyday that grows longer signals to the bees that they can begin to grow larger in size, preparing for a very busy spring. The queen goes from laying as few eggs as possible to laying more and more. By peak season, around Summer Solstice, a queen can lay up to 2000 eggs per day! Right now she may be laying so few eggs that the hive will go through something near to broodlessness, where the colony seems to have little to no brood (aka baby bees) at all. This is not unusual. Since there is so little to do in the winter, the queen doesn’t need to lay very many eggs. But as soon as spring comes into view, the queen knows she needs to begin ramping up production.

The bees are told of this change not only because of changes in the day but also availability of resources. Since there is barely enough pollen to be found in fall or early winter, when the bees begin to bring pollen in, that also means spring is close! In Charlotte, NC we can see the bees bringing in small amounts of yellow or orange pollen from early dandelions.

So what does this mean for beekeepers? Most important, if the bees are getting prepared for spring that means you should be too! If you haven’t already, time to get all your ducks in a row. That means painting boxes, making frames, planning expansions. If your bees make it to spring, they’re going to need more room! Here in Charlotte, NC spring really begins around the first week of March. That’s about the earliest we can expect to see our hives swarm.

All this aside, this doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods just yet. As your hives are growing in numbers, that means they will have more mouths to feed. Most hives die in late winter, not because of the cold but rather from running out of food. That’s why I make sure that every hive has plenty of food. I typically supplement feeding with solid, sugar bricks. These bricks mimic what happens to honey naturally when it gets cold and crystallizes. The time of eating liquid food has ended for now and won’t resume until it gets warmer.

All to say there’s really never a dull moment for your bees! Winter is especially short in Charlotte, NC not giving our apiary much time to reset and regroup. We might have a couple weeks to kick back but then before you know it, the maples are in bloom and clover is soon to follow. Always have a plan and know that your bees are NEVER dormant. They’re just waiting…

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