By Chris Savage
You might be thinking, why the heck would there be a blog post on a refrigeration website about honeybee’s? Up to about a month ago, I would have been thinking the same thing!
Recently Carlson & Stewart Refrigeration was contacted by a local, South Dakota, honey producer. He called with some very intriguing information and questions. He was looking for help to refrigerate his honeybee’s. I have to admit, this is the first time that anyone at Carlson & Stewart had ever been asked that question. But we don’t shy away from much of anything that has to do with refrigeration, so the research began.
We learned that honey producers do more with their many hives of honeybee’s than to simply let them sit in the back yard and wait for them to make honey. As you probably know, bee’s can only make honey when there is food available to them, and under normal, natural conditions, this usually means that they have nectar available. Here in the upper mid-west the summers are short so the flowers that provide nectar are not always available. So the bee’s have nothing to do all winter long. And since our winters are not only long, but also COLD, how do the bee’s survive?
Any fans of nature will probably not be surprised, or they already know, that bee’s are amazing creatures and have figured it out. In nature, bee’s cluster together when the outside temps are cold, huddled up around the queen. They eat their honey and vibrate their wings to generate heat in order to survive. As long as they stay in their hives and work as a unit, they can survive pretty extreme conditions.
But as humans, we are always looking to be as efficient as possible and don’t like the idea of letting the bee’s sit idle all winter long. After all, we don’t get to take the winter off! So the bee keepers (or maybe the orchard farmers) saw a need for honey bees in the warmer climates during the winter. So they ship the bees, on tractor trailers, out to places in Texas and California where the bees pollinate almond orchards (and maybe other plants). The orchard farmers rent out the bees…..crazy huh!
I’m not exactly sure of when the season for pollinating orchards, but it must take place in the February-March time frame. So this leaves a window of time from about October through January, where the bee’s aren’t in use. And even though the bee’s have figured out how to mostly survive, our extreme cold weather does still have a big impact on the population of bee’s.
So the ingenious bee keepers came up with the idea of storing their bee’s inside of a building to keep them safe. However, you can’t let the bee’s get too warm or they think it is summer and they go out and start looking for flowers. They find ways to get out of the building and then the cold takes them out. So there ends up being a balance between keeping it cold enough that they want to stay in their hives but not too cold. And by the way, remember how I mentioned that they generate heat….well, in comes the need for refrigeration and ventilation.
I have learned over the last couple of weeks that this indoor storage of bee’s has been going on for a bit over 20 years. So we are starting to get some knowledge and experience on how to manage the indoor storage. There is some very interesting research and articles on the subject if you want to check it out. Carlson & Stewart Refrigeration has taken a keen interest in this process and we are looking forward to opportunities to learn new things and apply our many years of refrigeration knowledge.