It has happened, the weather has cooled to new lows, the north wind has began to blow, and the leaves will soon be changing. Students are headed back to school and the bees are cleaning house. If you have had a look at a beehive right now you would see some interesting, and perhaps cruel behaviours occurring at the entrance of the hive. The worker bees (females) are forcing the drone bees (males) out of the hive by physically removing them and keeping them from any food source; they are literally starving the poor guys out. Why is this you ask? Drone bees are not really active members of a working hive. Their involvement of hive development is one of evolutionary necessity really. Without them, the bee kingdom would be unable to proliferate new genetic variations, but with them, the female workers have to work overtime to keep them living. The drone bee cannot sting, he cannot eat on his own, he does not harvest pollen or nectar, and he certainly does not help with the little larva bees.
In any healthy hive, there can be between 100-300 drone bees living within it throughout the peak summer months, but as the weather cools and the Queen bee begins to decrease the amount of brood (baby bees) within the hive, the worker bees start preparing for the winter hibernation, and the worker bees certainly aren’t going to be responsible for feeding the drones all winter!
Although this behaviour may be shocking, beekeepers use it as an indicator that a new set of maintenance is in play: harvesting and winterization. This is the time of the last honey extraction, search and analysis of mite populations, and insulation of the hive. The bees are able to hibernate fine in these northern climes, but they need to be securely insulated and deplete of varroa mites, and enough honey needs to be left so that the bees are able to eat throughout the winter, even if there is surprisingly long like this past years cold. The insulation is the key. Some beekeepers use housing insulation wrapped in plastic, others use hay bales and snow.