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The Winter Solstice, What Happens to the Honey Bee Colony

Well here we are at the Christmas Season. Have you ever wondered what is goin on in your hives while its cold outside.


As we all know the winter solstice was this week on December 21, 2021. Well fellow beekeepers that was the first day of the beekeeping calendar. Why do I say that, I'll tell you. In the Northern Hemisphere the honey bee colony begins to change from the grumpy, sleepy little bees that we all know and love and love to hate on occasion to a working colony. The resting temperature of 70-75deg (21-24deg C) around the brood nest to a heart warming and brood rearing temperature of 95deg F (35deg C). This increase in warmth will spur the queen to start laying eggs. She will start small and over the next few weeks gradually increase the size of her laying pattern. If all goes as they have planned the hive will be full of bees on the first few warm days of spring.

The First of two parts

The yearly cycle of the Honey Bee Calendar that you all have heard me speak about and I would hope that you have heard from other beekeepers as well runs from the first part of December to the first part of June. Some will make specific dates of Dec 1st to June 1st. Others, like myself will use the general terms. In late December the colony is at its smallest and at the solstice the queen will begin to lay more eggs. There is more activity in the nursery and the population is slowly increasing.

Fast forward to June.

By the end of June most colonies are as strong as they will likely get for that season. This six months from December to June are months of increase, with the summer solstice marking the peak or apex for the colony.

The second part of the bee year from late June to mid December is a season of decrease. During these months the colony will shrink and grow smaller until the shortest days of winter and awaiting the next solstice.

Solstice to Solstice

Sure thing will vary and fluctuations will happen depending on local climate, weather patterns, and individual colonies lets face it they have been around a long time. The trend is six(6) months of increase and growth and six(6) months of decrease. I recently read that the response to photoperiod (increase or decrease in daylight) is much less in honeybees than in some other insects. Regardless of how it works you will be able to see the changes in your own hives.

To Manage Bees Think About the Calendar

New beekeepers ask me all the time, why they are doing one thing when the beekeeper is expecting something else. If that happens look at the calendar, and think about what is happening. Ask yourself are my hive in the increasing phase, or are they in the decreasing phase? More often then not you can look at the calendar and answer the question and it will help you to understand what is going on in the colony.

Just remember that building happens from winter solstice to summer solstice and contraction occurs from summer solstice to winter solstice.

The next Solstice is Tuesday June 21, 2022.

Bill the Beeman

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