In the height of winter, beehives shut down to varying degrees. In Southern California, however, many of our beehives remain active, though to a much lesser extent than during the spring or summer months. During winter, the bees wait for the relatively mild weather, which reliably comes along from time to time. When a pleasant day does arrive, the bees can be found out on the go, foraging on the many winter blossoms such as jade and eucalyptus.
Most North American beekeepers overwinter their colonies in a “double deep” configuration, meaning that the colony heads into winter with two deep supers. The colder and longer the winter, the more stores of honey are needed for the colony to ensure survival. In the northern parts of the United States, most beekeepers like to have the top box solidly filled with honey to minimize the risk of starvation. This top box, heavy with honey, also provides a layer of insulation from the cold.
Here in Southern California, however, the wintering conditions are much milder. Because our bees have the year-round opportunity to forage, and we have the availability to feed our bees, if necessary, during winter, we often prefer to overwinter our colonies in a “single deep” configuration – compressing the bees into one deep super. California bees seem to overwinter well in a single hive body. This tight configuration minimizes empty air space and condensation, allowing the bees to control their brood temperatures when stormy weather and cooler nights prevail. In a single box, they keep their cluster tight, and have plenty of population packed around the winter brood nest. This tight space also keeps the bees relatively compressed around the entrance, affording them better protection against robber bees and other pests.
As humans, we might find such crowded conditions completely unacceptable. As insects, however, honeybees generally have no problem with these slightly crowded conditions – especially in winter. When the weather is cold, bees actually seem to enjoy the company of their sisters and thrive in their tight living spaces!