As the warmer weather begins to sneak into March, it also brings new life to the bee hives tucked away in the pine trees at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. The bees have been tended to all winter with warm syrup and fondant to eat, and the bees seem to have survived our long winter! The hives are buzzing and the bees are doing their early spring cleaning flights to keep the hives clear of disease and sickness.
How did the bees survive over the winter? It started in the fall, when the queens began to lay eggs of larger winter bees. These winter bees. These winter bees are responsible for keeping the queen warm during the coldest months. Summer bees may only live 4-6 weeks, but winter bees are bred to survive the entire season, sometimes for up to 6 months. The bees warm the queen by forming a “cluster” around her, a concentrated bundle of bees that flap their wings and shiver to raise their body temperature and turn, keep the queen warm (temperature can reach up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit!) at the core. To keep the entire hive alive, bringing the bees on the outside of the cluster inwards so that no bee succumbs to the cold.
Obviously all of this buzzing, flapping, shivering, and repositioning ames up precious energy, and the bees need to eat honey to survive. The worker bees in the late summer and fall left a surplus of honey for the winter bees to eat, and the CVI Food Lab helped put by feeding the bees warm syrup all winter long, which the bees processed into honey for food. This cooperation amongst the bees and their “keepers” helps to ensure that the bees stay healthy throughout the winter, and that the queen survives to start a new brood of pollinators come spring.
As the hives begin to come alive, the first point of action for the bees is food. While the queen takes to laying new eggs, the other bees are out foraging for nectar and pollen to feed the new brood. March can be the hardest time of the year for a hive, it’s a tightrope situation between laying eggs to establish a thriving colony and making sure there is enough food to keep the new colony fed and healthy enough to forage. !
The Chef’s Garden has devoted 80 acres of land to plants that provide bees with optimum nutrition. We have selected specific cover crops and scheduled plantings to ensure a constant blooming source throughout the warm seasons. The proper balance of nutrients ensures that every edible crop hand-harvested at The Chef’s Garden is full of flavor and high-quality nutrition. Providing a plentiful, diverse, and long-lasting source of food within easy reach of the hives offers the same benefit to the bees. And the effort is undoubtedly worth it for all of us!