If you live in North Carolina or other parts of the southeastern United States, you may have noticed some unusually warm days in the past few weeks-we’re talking highs in the mid 60s here in the Piedmont. That is a bit unusual for an area where the average highs in January are in the upper 40s and the average lows are around 30 F. These strangely warm temperatures make me want to spend all day in the Edible Schoolyard garden. I love to see visitors in the garden in the winter! It’s fun to show people what we are growing in the winter garden. I’m sure the chickens and rabbits appreciate the warm weather, too.
In spite of the benefits of warm days in January, I’ve found out there are negative aspects to the weather, too. Recently, I’ve been learning more about bees since we have a lot of bees visiting the garden. Here’s what I’ve learned: Warm weather in the winter makes bees active just like it makes people more active, and an active bee uses a lot more energy. Bees normally spend the winter in a cluster around the queen, who lays eggs to keep the colony supplied with workers. The inside of the cluster is about 95 degrees, and worker bees rotate from the edge to the center, so that everybody gets a chance to stay warm some of the time. But when the temperature outside is in the mid 50s or higher, bees will start leaving the cluster to forage for nectar. In the winter, it is hard for bees to find much nectar because flowers are not usually blooming. They may not find enough food to make up for the energy they use in foraging. Bees then end up eating through the extra honey supplies they stored for the winter. If the weather stays erratic, then bee colonies are at risk. Beekeepers are advised to provide extra sugar sources to their bees on warm winter days. If you know beekeepers in your neighborhood, ask them what they do for their bees in the winter!