Both my son and daughter have inherited my sense of re-purposing and conservation. My son continues to get a kick out of the fact that nothing in the bee operation goes unused – it all gets recycled in some way at some time.
Pictured is a melting block of beeswax. From nectar or sugar the bees create wax which is used to build comb. The comb is used to rear brood or store honey. Wax cappings are removed and saved when honey is harvested. Even the brood frames are eventually removed, scraped, and the wax melted down. The block in the picture made the above trip from bee to comb to wax cappings and eventually into a block of wax, to the SC State Fair and back to the barn. Now, it’s being melted down for application to foundation for use by the bees this coming spring. The cycle is complete.
There is no good reason to open your hive during periods of extreme cold. None. Even if you suspect they have died, for whatever reason, opening the hive can typically wait.
Honey bees will form a protective spherical cluster and shiver, the outermost bees rotating with the inner bees, to warm themselves. The bees shiver to generate heat and the outer bees form an insulative layer. Being cold blooded, all bees exhibit some degree of slowing down when they are unable to warm themselves sufficiently. As the temperature continues to drop a protective physiological mechanism called torpor begins: a semi-hibernation, reaction to the cold, that reduces their metabolism and allows them to conserve energy and survive by significantly slowing down their physiological processes. Dependent on cluster size this may affect a larger percentage of the bees surrounding the core of the cluster. The role of the beekeeper is to allow the colony to conserve what heat is available by not opening the hive. In a case where it is known the colony is running out of food wait until the hive and bees have warmed enough to move about and only then briefly open the hive enough to insert frames of honey or other food. During extended periods of cold weather it may take a few days for the bees to warm up and begin to move about freely.
Honey bees’ ability to survive winter temperatures is related to both the formation of a winter cluster as well as physiological mechanisms. Another physiological mechanism involves a sugar within honey bee hemolymph called trehalose. Monosaccharides in honey bee diets are fructose and glucose but the most common circulating sugar in hemolymph is trehalose which is a disaccharide consisting of two glucose molecules. Trehalose acts as a protection to cells by preventing the crystallization of cell membranes and enables the bees to come very close to freezing yet recover without ill effects after warming.