By Amy Sibul, Faculty adviser to the Beekeeping Association at the University of Utah
The honeybees at the University of Utah have had a good season, and are now getting ready for the winter. We saw multiple pulses of nectar flow this flowering season: one after the heavy spring rains caused a flush of flower blooms, and another after the strong monsoonal storms in late July. What are honeybees feeding on right now? We still see late fall-blooming plants like sunflowers, hyssop, and mints attracting honeybees to their flowers. The bees visiting these flowers are hurriedly producing the honey they will survive on during the long, cold winter months. Each healthy hive needs 75-100 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. Lucky for us humans, a healthy hive can produce twice that amount if we provide the honeybees with enough space. In September, we were able to have a honey-extraction party where we extracted about 75 pounds of honey from our hives at the Health Sciences library. We also made sure each of our dozen hives were healthy during our bi-weekly hive inspections. These inspections are important for making sure that the queen bee is laying enough healthy eggs, honey production is on track, and parasites and disease aren’t negatively effecting honeybee health.
So, have you ever been curious about what honeybees do for the winter? Honeybees are the only bees besides bumblebees that actually survive in their adult form over the winter. Our non-hive dwelling native bees survive as eggs and larvae through the cold winter months. In bumblebee species, only the queen lives over the winter, but each honeybee hive has 20-30,000 bees that live through the winter in their hives. They feed off their honey stores, and vibrate their little, but powerful, wings to keep the hive warm. Once the daily high temperatures consistently start dipping into the 40’s you’ll notice that the honeybees are no longer out and about, and the fall-blooming plants they’ve been collecting nectar from are no longer blooming.
Remember how queen bumblebees actually survive through winter? Do you know where they’re hibernating? They like to pass the winter nestled into a nice patch of bunchgrass, or under an insulating pile of leaves. Leaving a nice, cozy pile of leaves in a corner.