Here’s a 5-minute single shot of what I hope are big and healthy winter bees. It took me about 4 years, something like that, to clue in about winter bees. They’re are not the same as regular summertime fun time worker bees, and I’m still not really an expert at it.
Winter bees are generally a bit beefier looking than warm-weather bees. To me, they look more like bloated bees that have gorged themselves on honey just before a swarm. Which kind of makes sense because essentially they’re bloated with extra fat and nutrients to make it through to the spring so they can produce royal jelly for the rearing of brood at time when natural pollen isn’t coming in.
I’m not entirely convinced that beekeepers like me need to do anything to ensure they’ve got a good crop of winter bees coming in. Nature seems to take care of it. Basically it works like this:
Near the end of the summer or early fall when pollen sources begin to drop — that’s what triggers the development of winter bees, a lack of pollen, not an abundance. I know, it’s counterintuitive. The temptation is to say, “Well, let’s give them extra pollen if they don’t have any pollen. Let’s get the royal jelly flowing!”
But providing extra pollen only delays the development of winter bees. Which might actually be a good thing in a place like Newfoundland where natural pollen sources in the “spring” often aren’t available until June. That’s a long haul the winter bees have to get through.
See? So it might actually make sense to provide extra protein (a.k.a. pollen patties) in the late summer or early fall. If I don’t see much royal jelly in 3-day brood cells at the time, I consider dropping in the patties to give the colony the extra nourishment to delay the development of winter bees.
But I also have a full-time job that isn’t beekeeping, and if I don’t have time to worry about this, I don’t. And most of the time my bees seem to do okay regardless.
I think it’s going to be a while before I’m an expert on winter bees.