Today’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has become important to me since I started beekeeping. Although today is the darkest day, I know that every day that follows will become that little bit longer and brighter, and bring me closer to being able to spend time with the bees again.
To celebrate the solstice, here is a poem from Sean Borodale’s brilliant ‘Bee Journal‘, published this year.
21ST DECEMBER: SOLSTICE FOR BEES
The sun leans at its annual alignment:
bare day and short,
the sky bleached and chattering with a slight adjustment.
Light’s skeleton puts back its fingers and flicks
the spectral end constant,
and bees just switch the wires of their song opposite;
winding the same sound the other way up.
Like hanks of yarn, this endurance of eavesdrop
grows wound and looped, and invariably it twists
between the wings and the ear.
May you come back
through the hole in the world’s syllable.
January is coming soon, this is what the bees will be up to –
The bees are clustering, huddling round the Queen and surviving on their honey stores. If the weather is mild the cluster may be very loose. On warm days they will be taking ‘cleansing flights’ and fetching water to dilute honey stores.
Following the winter solstice (usually the 21st, sometimes 22nd Dec), the bees recognise the increasing day lengths. If the queen stopped laying completely during December, she will start laying again sometime in January. To keep the brood warm enough the workers will need to maintain the centre of the brood nest at around 33°C (when no brood is present they can let it drop to about 20°C, which is warm enough to keep the workers active). The temperature will still be cold outside so the bees will be using up a lot of energy generating the required heat, so can get through their honey stores very quickly.
There will be little forage available yet, but the bees will seek out what fresh pollen there is for the new brood. The first snowdrops may be beginning to poke their way out of the ground. Other plants that may be out include crocus, winter flowering honeysuckle and the willow variety Salix aegyptiaca, a musk willow that under the right conditions will flower in January.
Happy Christmas everyone, looking forward to seeing you and the bees in 2013!