We often get asked, "What happens to your bees during winter?" Short answer, they stay inside. Wouldn't you, if you could?
Bees in warm areas like Florida and California are able to produce honey all year, and never require winter stores. Lucky folks! However, the further north and the colder the temperatures, the more likely we are to lose our bees to starvation and freezing.
Luckily, Virginia has a mild winter, or so they say, but bees still do not like the cold. Also, trees have shed their leaves and flowers, so there is no nectar or pollen for bees to forage and feed. Bees cluster inside the hive to keep warm when temperatures drop below 50 degrees, and the colony will depend on food stores (honey) to feed throughout the winter.
So how do they eat if we harvest their honey? In late summer, beekeepers harvest honey from the hives. We always leave four boxes for brood (babies) so the colony's life cycle continues inside the closed hive. We also leave multiple boxes of capped honey so the bees can eat during the winter. Once the hive is closed, though, we have no idea if they will have enough food unless we have a particularly warm day and can peek inside the hives to check on food supplies and colony health. So as a supplement, we make candy/fondant patties, which is a highly concentrated, organic, white sugar block/patty that will be placed inside the hive before closing it for winter. If they run out of honey, they will have enough sugar to keep them going until the end of winter.