Bees in January

And so we’re in 2022… another year for us… but the first and only winter for my bees. Huddled in their nest, resting their wings, winter bees tend to live longer than summer bees. But still their life-span is measured in months, not years.

On any dry day this winter, my colony has continued to be active, flying and finding yellow and orange pollens. In the photo below (taken a week or so ago) I’ve found one returning with bright orange pollen. I’m not seeing much in flower, so am not sure what this might be. Possibly willow or mahonia? Gorse flowers all year round here, but I rarely see bees on that. Bristol beekeepers have a good pollen guide showing the UK pollens available in different seasons: Pollen guide

Bee entering hive with pollen

I did an oxalic acid trickle over the Christmas holidays to treat for varroa (the bees were not feeling in a Christmassy spirit towards me!).

They still have plenty of fondant up above the crown board. I see some of them nibbling away at it when I check on them every couple of weeks. I also find wood lice and the occasional slug enjoying the warmth above the colony.

Something that surprised me recently was seeing honey bees visiting the moss on my roof. From my attic window I can lean out and see the different mosses up close. I’d never paid much attention to moss before, just seeing it all as soft green lumps. It took me a little while to realise that actually a few different species live up on the roof, with a variety of velvety textures and shapes you would never guess at looking up from the ground. This side is south facing and so even in these chilly winter months some of them appear to be flowering, with tiny light green flowers sticking up on stalks.

Were the bees finding tiny amounts of nectar? Or perhaps drinking from water collected in the moss? It’s hard to know.



About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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17 Responses to Bees in January

  1. Jenny says:

    Hello Emily! Fellow beekeeper here near Exmoor so on the edge of North Devon. My colonies also active throughout winter so far and last week also bringing back a lot of yellow and orange pollen! Also trickled Oxalic just before Christmas, may have had brood though so not sure how many mites it’ll hit. If you find out the pollen let me know. I have seen dandelion flowers out. Bulbs up not flowered yet. Sounds like we’re experiencing similar with our bees. Mine also have had pot of fondant on top and are nibbling but appear to also be opening stores (and brood) judging by the tray drop. This year I’m trying 2 colonies with trays in and two colonies trays out as an experiment. Also the drop helps me gauge hive activity as this is yet another very untypical weather for the season.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Hi Jenny! Nice to hear from you. Good that you have dandelions about. Have a few round here but not many. Bulbs not out here yet either. Hope your colonies continue to do well 🙂


  2. Simon Rice says:

    Yes I think the bees are after water to dilute their stores. Water from areas we would consider odd, including cow pats, provide them with additional minerals. Just don’t tell your honey customers perhaps 😀


  3. disperser says:

    I miss photographing moss. I don’t see much of it here.

    By the way, I fed bees well into November (hummingbird food after the hummingbirds were gone, on days above 60° F).

    I even rescued a bee that had been too late getting back to the hive the previous evening. PI found her in the morning. It looked dead, but then I noticed a small movement, so I put a small drop of honey next to her, and she was soon strong enough to fly off after eating some.

    But, about 17° F right now . . . not much in the way of bee activity).


    • Emily Scott says:

      Amazing how resilient the bees are. You can also give them a little white sugar mixed with water to perk them up. There is a slight risk that feeding bees honey from other bees can spread disease (but I’m sure the bee appreciated the honey pick-me-up!)


      • disperser says:

        This wasn’t raw honey, so I’m assuming disease wouldn’t be an issue, but I don’t know.

        It was on a slanted surface, so anything liquid would have rolled off.


        • annchilcott says:

          Hello Disperser, honey of any kind can harbour AFB so it is not safe to feed bees with (unless you are leaving them with their own stores over winter).


        • Emily Scott says:

          There’s a kind of disease that affects bees called American Foul Brood (AFB), unfortunately the spores of this can survive heating even at high temperatures, so raw or non-raw makes no difference. The mix of sugar water can be made thick if needed, the bees don’t mind. Another advantage of sugar water is you get to keep all the honey to yourself 😉


        • disperser says:

          Well, crap!

          . . . I probably wiped out a colony . . .


  4. I always wonder where the pollen is coming from. At the moment I would think gorse pollen because I have never seen bees gather pollen from the Mahonia and I have several bushes, not even the bumbles take it. This may be preference for the winter honeysuckle, I wonder if others have seen the bees on Mahonia? Here it is too early for the willow pollen. Amelia


  5. Ann Chilcott says:

    The bees are collecting water, Emily. They need a lot of water, once the queen starts laying again around the winter solstice, to make brood food. The moss looks like it is in the sun which gives a safer source for them as water collecting is risky in winter. I did a small study in the Scottish Highlands and discovered that water collectors came out at 4.3 degrees Celsius on overcast days. I saw them warming up their flight muscles for a few seconds on the side of the dish before taking off. They are such fascinating animals.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Ann – fascinating that they collect water at such low temps. Some books will tell you they only forage at above 8-10C, but have always suspected bees in colder climates need to collect at temps lower than that.


  6. Ann Chilcot says:

    Hello Emily. I’m pretty certain that your bees are collecting water from the moss because they need a lot of water to make brood food once the queen starts laying again around the winter solstice. I studied water collection in my apiary in the Scottish Highlands and discovered that they took great risks coming out in 4.3 degrees C to collect water in the shade. Your photo shows moss in the sun which is a great environment. I watched my bees pause on the side of the water dish (which is lined with moss) to warm up flight muscles before returning to their hives.They are fascinating animals.


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