By Marcus Phelan
The Winter frost has arrived and the hives on the Trinity roof are now lulled and still. Just as the College community welcomes the lighting of the Christmas tree with mince pies and hot drinks so too must the honeybee colonies protect themselves from the perishing cold. In her last post Susie described the expansion of the apiary over Summer. I am happy to report that the colony led by one of Queen Medb’s own progeny and the nuc kindly donated by Kilternan beekeepers are heading into Winter in good shape; as well as Medb herself, of course.
Stores of honey (with a little helping of fondant) will provide sustenance until the abundance of Spring returns. The fondant or ‘bee Christmas cake’ is suffused with pollen, as the carbohydrates of the sugar must be supplemented with protein-rich pollen to provide a balanced diet. This helps to strengthen the colony in the absence of naturally occurring pollen. Ivy and other late Autumn pollen producers have dwindled by now. So the larder is well stocked with provisions for the long cold months ahead.
But what do bees do to protect against the cold? The answer lies in an amazing adaptation that allows the honeybee to maintain the temperature of the ‘cluster’ in an overwintering hive. Bees have the ability to decouple their wings from their muscles thus isolating wing movement. By then activating the wing muscles they can produce heat rather than movement, generating warmth within the hive. The interior temperature can be maintained at 20-30 degrees Celsius despite outside temperatures dipping below zero.
As the bees wait out the colder part of the year us beekeepers must prepare for the year ahead, hopeful of a successful emergence in Spring. Plans are already afoot in the apiary to assist in further research programmes and the Trinity bees are certainly earning their keep, as well as enriching the College environment.
Nollaig Shona Daoibh from the Trinity Beekeepers!