I am privileged to be the hostess to 9 honey bee hives. I am not a “keeper” as I have no idea how to make wax or raise the larvae. I am a “hostess” in that my greatest duty is to make sure that the bees have what they need to meet their basic needs (food, water, shelter) and to encourage them to stay on the Farm. I want the “girls” so drunk on nectar from my plants, that they have no need to fly the 5 miles possible to find more.
Honey bees do not hibernate. They are actually quite busy in order to maintain a temperature of at least 43 degrees or die. They accomplish that by consuming honey stores which should be at least 60 pounds or 5 gallons of honey. That amount must be left on the hive to ensure their survival through raw, polar vortex days.
In order to help the bees stay warm, without over-heating on sunny days, a hay bale windbreak on their north side is important. The entrances must be free of snow so that bees can fly on warm days.
The bees form a loose cluster around the queen and over the honey. They move from the outside of the cluster to the inside when they need more honey. As long as the feet of an outside bee are in contact with the mass of her sisters, the temperature inside the hive can be below zero and the bee will be fine, but if she loses contact with the cluster she will freeze.
On days when the air temperature is about 45⁰ the honey bees take cleansing flights (they do not defecate in the hive) and get a drink at the birdbath which is replenished daily with filtered water.