Bees and Honey in Winter?

Dec. 9, 2012
Bees and Honey in Winter?

Annette and I got a real treat this past week: about a gallon of honey — harvested from our own beehives.
Bees and honey in winter? Yep. Surprised me, too.
I have two hives — one painted white, one painted yellow. In the white boxes are Italian bees; in the yellow, Cordovan, an Italian variety.
Some people say that there is no difference between the Cordovans and their Italian relatives, except for a lighter color caused by a recessive gene.
I’ve read that Cordovans have a longer tongue and are able to obtain nectar from flowers that other bees cannot and have read also that they tend to have larger hive numbers — which I’ve found to be true, at least comparing my two hives. The Cordovans outnumber the others 2-to-1 and also seem to gather honey earlier, increase their numbers earlier, and have honey longer.
That’s not a scientific observation; it could be that it’s just the difference between the two colonies of bees that I happen to have. But it could also be what it seems to be, too: that Cordovans are better adapted for our area.
Which brings us back to the honey.

When I was harvesting our honey a couple of months ago, I left both hives with a super (i.e., a box usually removed for honey harvest).
The reason was twofold:

1) Last year, I just assumed our bees were fine for the winter and didn’t check on them during the winter months. That was a mistake that almost proved fatal — for the bees.
I was at an agricultural conference and mentioned to a fellow beekeeper how the unusually warm weather was probably good for the bees. “Have you checked on your bees lately?” he asked. “There have been a lot of colonies dying because they ate up all their honey.”
The hot winter provided some blossoms for the bees, but not enough; since it never got really cold, the bees didn’t reduce their hive populations much and, so, they needed more honey to keep them alive until the spring nectar flow started.
When I got home from the conference, the first thing I did was check on my bees and the beekeeper was right. While the Cordovans seemed fine, the Italians were almost out of honey. I started feeding them sugar water and they rebounded.
So, this year, when I harvested I figured I’d wait and see if the bees needed extra honey; I could always harvest it, if I wanted. I left a super on each hive, as insurance for them.

2) The bees are still making honey.
When I harvested my bees, the supers that I left on the hives each had about 3 frames of honey in them (the were the top ones). I had removed the middle supers and left the tops.
When I checked them last week, the Italians had about half filled their super; the Cordovans had totally filled their super and looked like they wanted to keep going. Mind you: This is December! But it’s been in the 60s and 70s for weeks. We have spring flowers blooming.
See photo: Henbit and buttercups — usually betokening Spring.
We had a high today of 75 degrees! it’s supposed to be in the 60s and 70s for another week, at least.
It did not appear that the Cordovans had reduced their numbers and were arriving laden with pollen and, presumably, nectar for honey.
So, I went ahead and harvested the Cordovan honey.
When I was finished, I replaced the Cordovan super with 2 frames of honey from the Italian hive, so both still have a super with honey in it, in addition to a brood box and second box. So, each hive has three boxes instead of two.

I’m not recommending that anyone do as I’m doing. I don’t know what the weather is going to do, and it could very well be that: a) they don’t need the supers; or b) they will need to be fed sugar water anyway. But this weird weather is hard to figure, for me, and, I guess, for the bees (and flowers), too.
I’ll keep an eye on them over the winter, hot or cold, this year.

Note: The honey we harvested is very pungent; mostly from golden rod. I noticed that we still have patches of new golden rod blooming! (See photo)

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Goldenrod growing in our  field Dec. 9, 2012.

Goldenrod growing in our field Dec. 9, 2012.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit

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