Bees in Winter

After last year’s loss of the queen and decimation of the hive, I was feeling a little nervous when we opened the hives at the start of Winter in late May. There was almost no brood, and less honey than we had expected. So it was a great relief when our bee keeper friend showed up unexpectedly and offered to check out the hives.

putting the top on the hiveWe have 2 hives and two queens. Queen Beresford was raised by him, and Queen Eleanor was purchased. There has been quite a difference in their behaviour. The first thing Eleanor’s hive did was swarm, even though she had a full hive to move into. Beresford just got down to work. By May in Beresford’s hive there was no brood at all but a reasonable amount of nectar and pollen and some honey. In Eleanor’s, much less food but a little bit of brood, and a lot of varroa.

The first thing he did was pick up Eleanor’s hive and declare that it was too light. So we went inside to make sugar syrup before opening the hives. This was very quick and easy –  we boiled 3 cups of sugar with 2 cups of water until dissolved. Once it had cooled we poured it into a standard half pint jar and drilled holes in the lid with a tiny drill bit. Later when we had finished the inspection and varroa treatment, we put an extra super on top of the hive, covered the lid, upended the jar over the hole in the cover, and slid the lid cover out.

Queen Eleanor’s hive was even worse affected by varroa than before, and some of the brood we had seen previously was dead. Although we couldn’t see varroa in Beresford’s hive we decided to treat both hives, as it’s not always easy to see.

Putting varroa treatment into beehive
Putting varroa treatment into beehive

Queen Beresford had started laying brood again, and it was fascinating to hear that they often start laying pretty much right away after the Winter solstice.  And I got to see her for the first time! She is the one in the pics below with the long golden abdomen, surrounded by brood at all stages and attendants.

bees and queen bee with broodhoney bees and queen with broodqueen bee

There is plenty of nectar in Beresford’s hive being made into honey – there are still flowers around, with Rosemary and Mustard coming into bloom and several of the Salvias still flowering. Some of the native trees Puriri and Manuka are starting to flower as well.

Bees pollen nectar and honey
Pollen, nectar, and capped honey in the hive (left to right)

Eleanor’s hive is going through the sugar syrup at a rate of about a cup a day when we are here to fill it up. The hive seems to be busy as well. Beresford’s hive is also busy; so as long as the weather isn’t too bad hopefully they will make it through with the honey they have stored away and the nectar still being collected, but we will check again in a month when we remove the varroa strips. 

bee hive with honey and pollen
Capped honey and pollen at the start of Winter
Pollen stores at the start of Winter
bees on honey
Bees on capped honey

There are still likely to be some long cold and wet days to get through before we are safely into Summer, but things seem to be going well for now.



8 thoughts on “Bees in Winter

      1. Oh, thank you – it’s distressing to see – they are so big in relation to the bee. I read that often they are hidden, so for every one like this that you see there will be many more on the bees and in the brood cells.

  1. Great pictures of the queen! We don’t always see our queens but it is so special when we do. We count how many varroa drop by placing a greased sheet of cooking paper under the mesh floor and get the daily drop by dividing by the number of days we leave it in place. You have to have a mesh floor for this method though. Amelia

    1. We do have a mesh floor on Beresford’s hive with a sheet of white coreflute under it – they don’t seem to have much varroa, but since they are so near the others…

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