Sunday, 14 March 2010

Why we winter our bees outside -- by Noëlle De Roo Lemos (Madame Miel)

First week of March. Temperatures are rising, snow starts to melt. Maybe today our bees will feel like getting out of their winter semi-lethargy to savour the open air.

As I told you previously, our colonies winter outside, carefully wrapped for protection. This technique, unlike the rest of Canada, is somehow not too popular in Quebec.. But it works for them, and for us. First of all, leaving the bees outside is practically time and cost free. No need to transport them inside, no need for investments in ventilation and refrigeration. Secondly, their spring development is quicker. As daylight increases, queen bees start laying eggs sooner. And we think wintering outside makes them generally stronger. We like them to venture out, sun and weather permitting, to cleanse their guts. The snow around the hives is sprinkled with little yellow dots. Bee poop. It's charming, and good for them.
But even if colonies thrive through winter, they may still die before summer. Spring is a crucial time for bees. All sorts of ailments may potentially affect them; they can die from a shortage of honey, from lack of brood due to inefficient or absent queens. This is why, as soon as the temperature rises to 15° C (around 60°F) beekeepers have to check the hive and take quick action.

In early March such actions are premature. It is important however, to allow easy circulation on the bottom board. This is why with a small stick I clean out debris or dead bees that obstruct the entrance. I also slightly lift the winter packings that partially shade them. Let the sun shine in!

As I step backwards to enjoy the scenery, a small bee alights on the zipper of my yellow anorak. She slowly climbs, leaving behind four little yellow droppings. She carefully cleans her back legs before flying away. Absorbed watching my visitor, I hardly noticed that her partners have flocked outside -- in a burst of life! There is excitement in the air. Lilliputian dancers start performing a ballet, to the rhythm of their buzzing song: "The Rite of Spring". My day is made!

No comments: