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Did you know you could hive bees in snow?

Did you know you could hive bees in snow?

Posted by Christy Hemenway on Feb 14th 2020

Bees’ behavior is temperature dependent. There are some things they just can’t do when it’s too cold. For instance, did you know that bees typically do not leave the hive below about 48 degrees F, give or take a few degrees? Or that a lone bee, separated from her sisters, becomes completely paralyzed at 45 degrees F? She cannot move her muscles! It is easy to be fooled into thinking that she is dead, though in all likelihood she is not. Many people have told the story of finding a “dead” bee outside on a very cold day, and brought her inside, only to have her “come back to life” when she warms up and soon, she begins flying against the window.

These temperature facts really come into play when hiving bees in early spring. Especially in brand new top bar hives, that have no existing comb, hiving in cold weather can spell disaster without taking a few important facts into consideration. It can be done, even in the snow – but it’s important to know that cold bees, installed into a cold and empty hive, will simply die in a heap. The crucial steps to take when hiving bees in cold weather are to 1) Get everything ready first; 2) Keep your bees warm until you are ready to hive them; and 3) Be prepared to feed them with fondant – not syrup.

Because bees must “cluster” in order to stay warm and survive the cold, the first concern after installing a new package of honey bees is that they are able to get back into cluster. To do that, get your hive completely ready to accept the bees. Have a frame of fondant (recipe here) made in advance, set up your “bee bowl,” and have all your tools at hand. Then go get your warm bees from where they’ve been being kept at something near room temperature. Quickly open the package, place the queen, and pour the bees into the hive. Be sure their food is accessible – put the fondant frame right up against where the cluster is located. The bees will not be able to leave the cluster in order to get sugar syrup from a distant feeder, so fondant is your solution.

Place the bars over the bees in their bee bowl and put the lid on the hive. If the bees themselves are warm when they go into the hive, they will crawl up to where you’ve placed the queen cage and cluster around her. Then they are safe!


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