Do the Bees know it’s Christmas?

Winter hive
Winter hive


As I am busy preparing for the festivities, the bees get swifter visits in between more pressing activities. During the winter months, it’s not so necessary to check on bees daily as they are mostly in a state of torpor, closely clustered together deep inside the hive.

The colder temperatures and rain prevent them from venturing outside. I like to check all my colonies during sunny spells, just to be certain that they are still well and able to take their cleansing flights.

I was asked by a child recently what the bees do for Christmas, which got me to thinking about my answer. As it was around the winter solstice, I knew that the bees did indeed take note of that date, more so than Christmas day!


Shortest Day

Up until our shortest day on December 21st, the bees are clustering together, protecting each other, and most importantly their queen, from the cold and wet of our Autumn and winter. With little forage outside there is no point in flying to collect nectar, and pollen is collected to feed the brood. As the queen has stopped laying during these cold dark days, the bees share out the honey from their stores.

As the solstice arrives, the queen and the bees become aware that the days are lengthening, signalling that soon it will be spring. Female worker bees take  21 days from egg to emerging from their wax cell, so the queen needs to ensure that she has enough new bees mature enough to fly out and collect nectar and pollen as soon as the first flowers appear in the trees and our gardens. Bees take three weeks to mature enough to be able to fly and so you can quickly see how the inside the hive needs to start preparing for the busyness of spring.

Cleaning the cells

The queen needs clean wax cells to lay her eggs into so. Inside the old winter worker bees, who will live for up to six months as opposed to the summer bees who live 5-6 weeks, begin cleaning out the honey stores, any debris, clearing the way for the queen to build up to her 1500 to 2000 eggs per day laying spree of the spring and summer months.

Bees are not just triggered by weather conditions, but by daylight hours, and so although they may not know it’s Christmas, they do feel the excitement that lighter, warmer days are to come, and that beneath the soil around the hive, plants are also preparing to burst into life in the new year.

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