Beekeeping 101 – A Year In A Bee’s Life
Article by Howard Peterson
If you are interested in beekeeping, you might want to know a little bit about the cycle of a bee’s life through the seasons of the year. Especially since the rhythms of their lives will greatly impact your activities and duties as a beekeeper!
During winter, the insects are largely inactive, at least in very cold climates. They tend to cluster inside the hive on honeycombs, sometimes with their heads buried inside the cells of the comb. Many times, there will be a new brood that hatches towards the end of winter. As the weather improves, the adults will also perform what is called a cleansing flight, where they fly outside in order to defecate – a rare occurrence during extremely cold winters.
In spring, the bees start back to the business of preparing for the next winter. In fact, that’s their main goal: to store up enough food to survive another year, and to enable the offspring of their queen to survive. Bees form a collective and are dedicated to the survival of the whole, not the survival of individuals.
As spring begins, the workers begin foraging for nectar and pollen. At the beginning of the season, there are usually no drones. Drones are raised later in spring, and since they are needed in order to fertilize the queen, bees’ reproductive season has not begun until the drones are born.
As spring becomes summer, the workers continue their foraging activities. By now the number of members in the hive has increased, which means that production of honey has ramped up as well. If the insects’ numbers are getting out of hand, the bees will build queen cells in order to create more queens in the future. If they do this, they are basically preparing for the entire hive to swarm, which is where the old queen will leave with a majority of the workers in order to start a new hive. Any newly hatched queen will lead the remaining bees to repopulate the old hive all over again.
One of the main tasks that a beekeeper wants to do is to avoid swarming. There are several ways, but one of the most effective is simply to remove queen cells as soon as they are detected. As long as queen cells are not present, the chances of a swarm are very small.
As fall approaches, the bees begin to prepare for the cold months ahead. Brood (non-adult bees, from eggs through the various stages of larvae) decrease in number. Bees that hatched the latest in the season have been less worn down by the demands of the hive, so they are usually the fattest and most able to survive the winter.
Because drones are only necessary for fertilizing the queen, and no more fertilization takes place as winter approaches, a vast majority of the drones are kicked out of the hive and left to starve rather than to consume the resources of the hive without contributing to its survival. A few lucky males are kept around in case they are needed for any queens that emerge early.
If winter is not too harsh, bees may still be active throughout these months, although less so than ordinary. If the months are very cold, they will cluster close together in order to wait for the beginning of spring, when they can emerge and repeat the entire process over again.
About the Author
Howard Peterson has been interested in beekeeping for years. To read more, check out his website’s free articles and free email series on beekeeping topics like starting your own beekeeping hive.