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Old 12-04-2012, 10:33 PM   #1
Torill
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Beehives in October

I have had help from you wonderful people several times before and here I am again - I feel somewhat like a leech, since I never contribute with any answers myself. I have watched this place to see if anything came up where I could pay back - but unfortunately, no one has asked a question in an area where I could claim any form of expertise... The moment anyone does, I will jump in with all the answers, promise!

This time I wonder about beehives.

My protagonist enters a garden with a few beehives. This happens in mid-October and I suppose it's somewhere in the UK (my story is a fantasy where the location is never made explicit.) Would the bees still be active and out flying? (I mention asters in bloom in the garden.) The weather is sunny and fairly warm, but it is October. Or would the bees have gone to sleep for the winter? Is there any particular winter preparations done to the beehives that a visitor not accustomed to bees would immediately spot?

I'm not going to have anyone do anything to or around the beehives in this scene, or even talk about them - I just wonder what the protagonist would see as he stands next to these hives. Any help will be much appreciated!!!
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Old 12-05-2012, 02:40 AM   #2
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bees don't really go to sleep for the winter. Sleep is a vertebrate thing. Many of them die off, the rest of them huddle in a huge ball with the queen in the center. The main question is has the frost happened? If not, the bees will still be foraging if there are any flowers to be visited.

Beekeepers will frequently protect their hives with insulating materials, as appropriate for the time, and will sometimes move the hives to a sheltered location. If the beekeepers do nothing, the bees themselves won't do anything that is noticeable.
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Old 12-05-2012, 03:06 AM   #3
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Thank you so much for answering!

So - even if the leaves are yellowing and only late autumn flowers are in bloom - the bees will still be flying out to forage? So you might see a few bees flying in and out of the hives?
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Old 12-05-2012, 04:07 AM   #4
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I would imagine that in the spring, you would see a LOT of bees because there are a lot of flowers blooming. In the fall and before the first frost, you'd still see *some* bees, perhaps not as many as in the spring (depending on the availability of blooming flowers) but they'd still be active.
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Old 12-05-2012, 04:21 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by melindamusil View Post
I would imagine that in the spring, you would see a LOT of bees because there are a lot of flowers blooming. In the fall and before the first frost, you'd still see *some* bees, perhaps not as many as in the spring (depending on the availability of blooming flowers) but they'd still be active.
I keep bees in the Pacific Northwest, with weather that is probably close to what you describe. As others have suggested, my bees will fly on a warm autumn day but not in great numbers.
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Old 12-05-2012, 11:26 AM   #6
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Thank you for your answers, GrouchPotato and melindamusil! I'll describe a few bees flying in and out of the hives and be confident that this is correct. Great!
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Old 12-05-2012, 10:23 PM   #7
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All great answers. I worked until time to retire (again) at Foothills Honey Company in Colton, Oregon.

Yep, even in rainy Orygun, our bees fly out and about in daylight hours. As said, in the coldest weather, they form a tight ball, rubbing bodies to create warmth through friction (on the hottest days, they "fan" out and air-condition with wings).

For your descriptions, remember bees don't fly after sundown and before sunup. They'll crawl out to defend against skunks and bears, but no flying.
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Old 12-06-2012, 08:22 PM   #8
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Look up 'apiary'. That's what beekeepers are called as well. There should be some good websites out there. If the garden has a hive, chances are someone knows about beekeeping. They'd have someone come in to look at it, if the person doesn't live on site.

Also, in October, the beekeeper will probably have helped prep the hive for winter, meaning taking off the upper layers of the hive which were used to gather honey during the warmer weather. These upper sections are what the beekeepers use to collect the honey from the hive. A good beekeeper would leave the two larger boxes of the hive alone, as the hive's main living quarters, other than checking on the hive to ensure the health of the bees. This means they don't take honey from this section at all. That honey is left for the bees to live on over the winter.

You might want to check out www.howellfarm.org. They keep two hives of bees on site and have two annual events revolving around them. One is in spring where the beekeeper comes in to check the hives and bees. The other is in the fall when he collects the honey.
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Old 12-07-2012, 01:00 PM   #9
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Thank you, Chase and dirtsider! Getting a very good picture now, so feel a lot more confident about writing that scene. I'ts not that I plan to include a whole lot about beekeeping, but I like to get my details right. So thanks again, all!
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Old 12-12-2012, 06:43 PM   #10
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Quote:
My protagonist enters a garden with a few beehives. This happens in mid-October and I suppose it's somewhere in the UK (my story is a fantasy where the location is never made explicit.)
OK. Do an image search for "national hive". Most British beekeepers use them over the more traditional WBC hive. It might help with the verisimilitude. Incidentally, the pattern for the national dates back to the war, when the government devised a cheap hive to encourage beekeeping.


Quote:
Would the bees still be active and out flying? (I mention asters in bloom in the garden.) The weather is sunny and fairly warm, but it is October.
As others have said, there would be some action. Bees go into cluster when it gets below a certain temperature. A warmish October day in Britain would be above cluster temperature. Nonetheless, the bees wouldn't be massively active and there wouldn't be much forage about, but you might get bees heading out on "hygiene flights", especially if they had been cooped up for a few days beforehand.


Quote:
Is there any particular winter preparations done to the beehives that a visitor not accustomed to bees would immediately spot?
Yes. The "supers" - the shallower boxes that sit on the main brood box - wouldn't be there. The supers are where the honey is stored and that would have come off in September or August (depending where in the UK you are). That said, some beekeepers use extra boxes anyway to give the colony more room.

Chances are that the entrance to the hive would be covered by a mouseguard - either a wooden block with a narrow gap in the middle, or a bit of metal with little holes punched in it, just big enough to allow the bees in and out.

The hive might also be wrapped in chicken wire or (if you're me) weld mesh. This is to keep the green woodpeckers off. The buggers play merry havoc with winter hives once they work out what they are.

Finally, you'll almost certainly see a big rock or a couple of bricks on top of the hive to weight it down in anticipation of winter gales.

Regards,

Peter
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