Back to Back Issues Page
What Happens to Bees in the Winter, Some of your Fall Favs.
October 25, 2010

Here we are in the last full week of October already.

Sunsets are well before 7:00 PM her in SW. Michigan and time is growing short for the outside tasks.

Birds continue to come and go.

The albino sparrow that was visiting for a couple of weeks has been absent now for a good week.

Still a House sparrow, but a treat none the less.

A couple of White-crowned sparrows remain.

Juncos are showing up more each day.

Cardinals are beginning to come back to the feeding stations as molt continues, but the birds don't have that haggard look now days.

American Goldfinches remain few as they continue to enjoy 'Creation's' bounty.

Other birds like Tufted titmouse, White-breasted nuthatches, Blue jays and some woodpeckers are coming more frequent visitors.

Of course my favorite, the Black-capped chickadees have been in full force for the past couple of months.

American robins are still plentiful too.

Birds are setting up feeding trails, be sure to keep your feeders full and if you only feed in the winter, you may want to get feeders out now.

Birds set up a routine and feeding territories for the up coming winter.

That's right, birds want to know when and where the food trail is now so they aren't left out in the cold so to speak.

If you aren't prepared, they may go elsewhere to establish a winter feeding ground and you will be left wondering where your winter birds are.

In many regions, Autumn colors are fading and falling fast.

Don't dispose of the fallen leaves, use them to your advantage.

Take your mulching mower and put them to use.

Some of you can grind them up as you mow and leave them to decay and feed your lawn.

Make a nice mulched pile and give your gardens and flower beds a nice dose of carbon (leaves are mostly carbon).

Research shows that leaves and other materials that are worked into veggie gardens now will have broken up and well on their way to decomposing by the time you are ready to plant next spring.

Work the soil now and there will be little need to do it in the spring.

I like to put a layer of mulched leaves on my flower beds and gardens (think nature).

The mulch layer protects plants, offers food for insects that in turn offers food for the birds that offer entertainment for me.

By spring, most of the leaves have broken down and some leaf material is used by nesting birds.

I might add this, Don't uses whole leaves (especially maple) on garden beds. They get wet and form an air tight and light blocking barrier that can choke off your perennials.

Be careful with excess oak leaves as to much acid can mess with your soil pH.

Pack some leaves tight into trash bags and use them as an insulator.

I place bags of leaves over tender plants every year (Z6, Z7and some success with Z8) in my gardens and plants survive for me.

If they don't survive, I still have a bag of leaves that is turning into leaf mold that I can use for compost.

More southern locations may have Autumn colors just starting to show.................... Enjoy our Crestor's Pallet.

I am still enjoying tomatoes, as we have yet to have a killing frost.

The fruits are smaller and I have to bring them in to fully ripen, but they sure taste good.

While some flowers have been frost nipped, many plants are still in bloom.

Annuals like Red salvia, cosmos, marigolds and a few other still look good.

Fall blooming perennials add color as well.

With all these flowers and moderate temperatures, I am noticing an abundance of honey bees this fall.

It started in late August and has exploded in October.

I can't recall this many honey bees ever in my yard.

I am a happy man to know there is at least one healthy hive somewhere in the wild around here.

With flowers this late in the season, I am reluctant to pull and cut, because of all the Honey bees (never mind that I enjoy them too).

Okay, with that said..........................................

A few readers asked me a couple of questions about honey bees.

What happens to, or where do all of the bees go for winter?

Do they die off or what?

(I really like it when readers inspire me and give me something to write on.)

Hopefully this will help to answer a few of your burning question on bees.


Many of our native bees are specialists and non social and are visible for short periods of time.

Take the Mason or Orchard bee for example (In the genus Osmia).

They are named from their habit of making compartments of mud in their nests, which are made in hollow reeds or holes in wood made by wood boring insects.

Unlike honey bees, they are solitary and every female is fertile and makes her own nest, and there are no worker bees for these species.

Solitary bees produce neither honey nor beeswax.

The bees emerge from their cocoons in the spring, with males the first to come out.

Other bees like 'Squash bees' and 'Sunflower bees' are also specialists the hatch and emerge at certain times of the year.

They remain near the nests waiting for the females.

When the females emerge, the first thing they do is mate.

The males die and the females begin provisioning their nests.

Females then visit flowers to gather pollen and nectar, and it will take many trips to complete a pollen/nectar provision mass.

Once a provision mass is complete, the bee backs into the hole and lays an egg on top of the mass.

Then she creates a partition of "mud", which doubles as the back of the next cell.

The process continues until she has filled the cavity.

Female-destined eggs are laid in the back of the nest, and male eggs towards the front.

Once a bee has finished with a nest, she plugs the entrance to the tube, and then may seek out another nest location or die.

By the summer, the larva has consumed all of its provisions and begins spinning a cocoon around itself and enters the pupal stage, and the adult matures either in the fall or winter, hibernating inside its insulatory cocoon.

Most mason bee species are found in places where the temperature drops below 0C for long durations, like the northern States and Canada, where they are well-adapted to cold winters.

And the cycle continues.

Because Mason bees don't have a nest or colony to protect, they make ideal garden pets.

About the only time they will sting is if they are pinched or stepped on.

Bumble bees (genus Bombus).

Bumble bees do things differently.

Bumbles are social, but unlike honeybees, bumble bees do not have a perennial nest.

Colonies of bumbles do not live through the winter as colonies.

In autumn the bumble-bee colonies die out and only the young mated queens overwinter (hibernate) by burrowing themselves several centimeters into the soil.

Males and new queens.

The production of males usually signals the beginning of the end of the co-operation and organisation of the nest.

The males drink the stores of honey, but do not forage to replace it.

Males are usually produced once the stores reach a sufficient quantity, or if the queen dies or loses her influence.

When the adult males emerge they spend a few days in the nest, but do no work, and then they leave the nest for good and forage for themselves.

They can often be seen sheltering under the heads of flowers when it rains or when it gets dark.

That is what most of the books say, but recently it has been found that some North American bumble bee males do help in the nest by incubating the young, so their adult life is not just drinking, chasing queens and staying out all night long.

New queens emerge about a week or so after the males.

The new queens leave the nest to forage for themselves, returning to the nest for shelter, but they do not add to the existing nest provisions.

New queens drink lots of nectar to build up their fat body and fill their honey stomach.

This will enable them to survive the winter hibernation, then they find a suitable place to hibernate.

During hibernation if the temperature falls below a certain point the glycerol is automatically produced in the queen's body.

This is a form of anti-freeze and prevents ice crystals forming which would cause the fluids inside her to expand and her body to burst.

Only queens Bumbles have this ability and the remaining nest dies off.

In the spring, the already mated queen begins to nest, lay eggs and brood her young.

By the end of a summer, a Bumble nest can consist of a couple hundred bees which will die off and the new queens will continue with the species survival.

Bumbles are non aggressive, but will sting when a nest is threatened or the bee itself is handled.

You can pet a Bumble bee on a cool fall day.

Often Bumbles are the only bee out this time of year, but they are slow.

Because they are non aggressive and slow right now, you can easily stroke a Bumble with a finger.

When the bee gets agitated, it will lift a leg............... when it really gets agitated, it will lift both front legs.

These are warning signs, but I have yet to have a bee chase me because of this activity.

Grand kids think it is pretty cool.

Common Name: Honeybee

Scientific Name: Apis mellifera

Honey bees are special.

Of the more than 22,000 species of bees worldwide, there are but 6 or 7 species of honey bees and all are social (colonized) where nests or hives can number more than 60,000 bees at any given time.

When a nest grows to large, the queen may take off with several thousand workers to establish a new sight and the remaining workers work to make a new queen.

Honey bees are non native to the Americas.

The bees we are familiar with is the European honey bee and more recently, the Africanized honey bee.

Here in the Northern parts of the United States and all of Canada, it gets pretty cold in the winter.

Honey Bees stop flying when the temperature drops down into the 50s (F).

They stay inside their hive in what is called a winter cluster which means they get into a big huddle.

The colder the temperature the more compact the cluster becomes.

Contrary to popular belief, honey bees do not "hibernate" in a scientific sense.

Although honey bees remain in their hives through the winter they do anything but hibernate.

Maintaining the hive is a constant job, in warm weather and cold.

The activities of a colony vary with the seasons.

The period from September to December might be considered the beginning of a new year for a colony of honey bees.

The condition of the colony at this time of year greatly affects its prosperity for the next year.

In the fall a reduction in the amounts of nectar and pollen coming into the hive causes reduced brood rearing and diminishing population.

Depending on the age and egg-laying condition of the queen, the proportion of old bees in the colony decreases.

The young bees survive the winter, while the old ones gradually die.

Propolis (sap) collected from the buds of trees is used to seal all cracks in the hive and reduce the size of the entrance to keep out cold air.

When the temperature drops to 57 F, the bees begin to form a tight cluster.

Within this cluster the brood (consisting of eggs, larvae, and pupae) is kept warm-about 93 F - with heat generated by the bees.

The egg laying of the queen bee tapers off and may stop completely during October or November, even if pollen is stored in the combs.

How Honey Bees Keep Warm? During cold winters, the colony is put to its severest test of endurance.

Under subtropical, tropical, and mild winter conditions, egg laying and brood rearing usually never stop.

Their metabolic rate remains normal as they cluster together to maintain a hive temperature of around 90 to 93 degrees.

Worker bees will create a cluster with the queen bee at the center.

The workers flex their wing muscles - although they do not actually use or flap their wings - to generate heat.

The ball is constantly moving as the bees on the outermost edge of the cluster move inward to warm themselves and those on the inside move out.

The cluster will remain over brood to keep it from becoming chilled and dying and will also move to areas of honey stores in order to eat.

As temperatures drop, the bees draw closer together to conserve heat.

The outer layer of bees is tightly compressed, insulating the bees within the cluster.

As the temperature rises and falls, the cluster expands and contracts.

The bees within the cluster have access to the food stores.

During warm periods, the cluster shifts its position to cover new areas of comb containing honey.

An extremely prolonged cold spell can prohibit cluster movement, and the bees may starve to death only inches away from honey.

The queen stays within the cluster and moves with it as it shifts position.

Colonies that are well supplied with honey and pollen in the fall will begin to stimulatively feed the queen, and she begins egg laying during late December or early January-even in northern areas of the United States.

This new brood aids in replacing the bees that have died during the winter.

The extent of early brood rearing is determined by pollen stores gathered during the previous fall.

In colonies with a lack of pollen, brood rearing is delayed until fresh pollen is collected from spring flowers, and these colonies usually emerge from winter with reduced populations.

The colony population during the winter usually decreases because old bees continue to die.

However, colonies with plenty of young bees produced during the fall and an ample supply of pollen and honey for winter usually have a strong population in the spring.

On the occasional warm day, bees will take "cleansing flights" to defecate and may remove debris and dead bees that have accumulated within the hive.

It is often detrimental to have a winter with many highs and lows as the bees will fly more to look for forage which requires use of the honey stores as they need to eat prior to flying from the hive.

On these warm days, I will see several honey bees feeding on cracked corn (corn sugar).

It is this God given ability of honey bees to survive the cold of winter and emerge by the thousands that make them so valuable as a pollinator.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, we have a few fall favorites from readers and your positive thought for the week.

Karen from Arizona.

Arizona is nice in the winter but there aren't really any "seasons" here. They tell you (weatherman) there are but I don't agree. They say Spring, Summer, Monsoon, Fall and Winter. Well we're having Fall now and it's really beautiful but there aren't any leaves changing and that cool Fall air like back East is just not here. If you go up on Mt. Lemmon (I haven't been there yet) I guess it's the real deal with big pine trees, snow and really cold air.

This is the time of year I miss the East so much. I always loved Fall, cool air, beautiful trees with the leaves changing color. Just miss all of it here, but do enjoy winter gardening.

Karen, we pretty much choose where we live and must take the good with the bad. I'm sure some relief from the heat is feeling pretty good.

Thank you.

Gloria of Paris Tennessee

I like the colors of fall, the trees are magnificent, my feathered friends seem to know they will be counting on me more than ever to help them get through the winter, they seem a lot less afraid of me. I love the crisp and wonderful smell of the air. It is a time when one can truly see all the wonderful splendor our Lord provided for us. God Bless.

Gloria, colors are fabulous this year and the fresh crisp air feel good ans smells even better.

Birds are one the move for sure.

Thank you for sharing.

Joe near Spartansburg, South Carolina.

I really like FALL when the leaves change colors, the pumpkins hit the roadside stands, and Apple Cider is pressed. Yummy. I love the cool nights, morning and then toasty nice days. You can't have a better day. The fall festivals are GREAT also. - Oh I know cooler times are coming, and maybe some snow, or brisk chilly winds, BUT I don't mind. The heat of summer must fade, and mother nature is working on my mind and heart, towards home. I just enjoy the day by day events in FALL.

Joe, you hit many nails on the head. Festivals, cider, pumpkins, colors and the coming of winter.

Thanks for sharing everyone.

If you care to share some fall favorites, simply forward this back to me, along with your vitals.

Here is your positive thought for the week.

"Do your best and trust that others do their best.

And be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."

Mother Teresa

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

Jesus Christ

Luke 16:10 (New International Version)

Until next time,

God Bless.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

Back to Back Issues Page