Saturday, 22 January 2011

Where do bees go in winter?

I was wondering through my garden this morning and noticed that a couple of self-seeded tomato plants are popping their heads above ground.  That led me to suddenly think - is there enough time before autumn / winter for these tomato plants to be productive - tomatoes need an temperature or 21 - 27oC (70 -80oF) in order to germinate and be productive.

But it was not only that, I suddenly thought - the tomatoes would need bees to pollinate the flowers - there are no bees in winter - well, none that I have ever noticed.

photo from http://www.sabeekeeper.co.za/
But bees don't migrate like birds - do they?  So what happens to them?

So I decided to google "where do bees go in winter", and came up with the following three sites:

http://www.satweb.co.za/bees/bees.htm

http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1699/

http://www.bees-online.com/Winter.htm

Basically, the worker bees create a "laarger"*.  Every worker bee in the hive (except for the drones and the queen bee, naturally) is involved in ensuring that the centre of their hive stays cool enough in summer and warm enough in winter.

To air condition the hive in summer, bees will gather on the outskirts of the hive and fan it madly with their wings in order to create a draft in the hive, and in winter the bees will cluster round around the queen bee in order to keep the center temperature at around 27oC (80oF). The worker bees rotate from the outside to the inside so that no bee gets too cold. The outside edges of the cluster stay at about 8oC (46-48oF). The colder the weather is outside, the more compact the cluster becomes.

So... I learnt something today.

The bees are still around in winter - they're just busy being useful to their hive.

Busy, busy bees indeed :-)

We really should take care of them better - for they are all our futures.

They are mainly attracted to purple and blue flowers, followed by yellow and orange.  Aubergines have lavender coloured flowers, tomatoes, squash / pumpkins and marrows are yellowy-orange - I've decided that I am definitely going to have at least one of each of these plants in my garden each summer - if only for the bees sake.  And strictly organic vegetable growing - for the chemicals in pesticides don't help anyone or anything one iota.

And I'm going to check each morning that my bird bath is full  - bees need a drink too.

Without them we would have no pollinated crops and no seeds for the future.  And I would surely miss not being able to grow my own tomatoes, aubergines, peas, beans, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, etc.


*A "laarger is a circle formed to protect the internal area of the circle.  The name is derived from the dutch settlers who travelled this country in ox wagons - at night they would create a laarger with the wagons, in order to protect the members of their party from wild animals / indigenous people.

7 comments:

  1. Dani, tomato plants are self pollinating and don't need bees to fruit, but bees sure help get a lot more fruit from the plants. You can also improve that by taking a stick and thrashing the plants when they are blooming to help them pollinate.

    As for the bees as you now know they don't go anywhere in the winter, but in the warm part of the day they do get out in force to gather what ever they can find. When there aren't any flowers they go for liquid (Especially liquid with sugar in it. I.e. soda cans with a little soda still in them and even beer cans with a little beer left in them. I got in a bad habit of crushing soda and beer cans outside near the trailer and then occasionally I'd bag them up to take them to the legion. Bad move on my part because it trained the bees to go to the cans and then they started trying to get in here to. I'd suggest using something like a humming bird feeder and have it well away from your cabin. Keep it full of nectar and the bees will use it.

    As for bees here in the US I hear we now have some sort of parasite that is attacking bees and slowly killing them off. I sure don't want to speed that up by killing them so am trying to retrain them to go to the liquids a good ways off. I keep the cans far enough away from here so I don't have to kill the ones that make it inside. So far that is only working a little, but I hope eventually they will quit swarming around the screen door here.

    Sorry for the long winded post.

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  2. David - thank you - learnt something else new today :-)

    I know about the parasite - and also the effect of chemicals on the bee population.

    Have you thought about putting a chute from inside to outside - straight into a trash can? Save a bag going to the dump too. Perhaps that'll steer the bees away from your screen door as well as saving you the necessity of having to get out of your chair when the can is empty (except to get a refill)? :-)

    Never apologise for a long winded reply - it's always good to hear from you :-)

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  3. Dani, the cans have to be crushed which means they get stomped so I can't do that in here. I figure I need more exercise so now each time I empty a can I walk out to the barrel I keep them in and throw it in. More exercise for me, gives the bees something to drink and or use and just maybe they will quit trying to come in here?

    I just make sure it isn't the time of day they are swarming the cans to go crush and bag them now. That means I can still be lazy, but get exercise and its easier for the bees to get in and out of the uncrushed cans.

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  4. Apparently the bees are not as active in the later afternoon / night time - perhaps that's a good time to stomp your feet? :-)

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  5. Dani, I've been intending to log times when they are feeding so I'd know when the best times to crush and bag would be, but as of yet I haven't started that. I'll try to remember today, but I think it is going on before and after noon. Usually late afternoon. It may be depending on the temperature at the time of start and stop though so could be different every day?

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  6. Very interesting information on how the bees rotationally surrounding the queen to keep her warm...I never knew that. I'm off to read your links.

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  7. Mr H - I was surprised too - not only that they keep her warm in winter, but that they keep her cool in summer too.

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