And now an answer to the question the whole world is asking:
Why do we care about Bee Poo?
Bees don’t like the winter. Flowers aren’t in bloom, so they can’t collect food. Once the temperature drops below 55 degrees, they can’t even physically fly. Even inside the hive they don’t move very far, but stay in a cluster just sort of buzzing to stay warm.
The other thing bees don’t like? Poo. They like to keep their house nice and clean. So it seems that in the winter, bees get stuck in a pickle. Can’t go outside, can’t poo inside. Don’t worry though—bees have figured it all out.
Inside the winter hive, bees are in a semi-dormant state. They don’t move around, but stay close together in a cluster, just sort of humming and buzzing to stay warm. If you’ve seen the penguin movie, you can relate it to what the penguins do in the dead of winter. They shuffle around and take turns at the center of the cluster, but that’s pretty much all the moving they do. This not only keeps them warm, but saves them their energy. This way they don’t have to eat too much, which serves to both make the honey last through the winter, and to keep them from making a mess in the hive. Bees will wait and wait to “go” until the temperature is just high enough (about 55° f) for them to brave the cold, fly outside, if only just for a second, and do their business.
This is helpful for the worried winter beekeeper who just wants to know if their precious bees are still surviving. Since the hive is all wrapped up and winterized, it can’t be opened for an inspection—not to mention the bees would freeze if you took the lid off of their home. Also known as frass, bee poo is one of the only signs of life that a beekeeper can look for in the winter.
It is really very simple, especially if there is snow on the ground. On a warm day, you simply go out to the hive and look at the ground around the hive. If it’s covered in yellow speckles, the bees are alive! If there’s no snow, you can look at the white lid of the hive and find speckles there, too. The speckles will wash away in the wind and moisture of the air after a few days, so if there are speckles, they were put there recently.
The only other thing you need to do in the winter is make sure that the hive entrance is clear. Because we put mouse guards on the entrance in the winter, it can be difficult for the undertaker bees to get dead bees through the winter mouse guards, and bodies can build up and block the entrance. Use any long skinny item that is strong and won’t break (we use a chopstick) and just gently poke through the wire mesh to clear away any bodies. If you didn’t see any poo, the reason may well be that they just couldn’t get out.
If the weather is warmer than 55 degrees, chances are you will see the bees too! Always a happy sight. They’ll take any chance they can get to start scavenging for propolis or nectar!
I hope your bees make it through the winter. It is really quite sad to find a colony frozen in their cluster. But if this happens to your little buddies, don’t give up! The data you collect through the year and through a hive autopsy is every bit as helpful as a living colony, and once you thoroughly clean out your hive, a new colony will be lucky to move in, and be taken care of by you, a beekeeper with yet another year of experience under your belt.