These pictures and video were all taken on February 11th, 2022. That’s right! Here in Western Washington the temperatures can fluctuate greatly as our temperate climate moves towards spring. The bees will take advantage of any days over 50F. When the warm sun hits the hive, bees take time to remove their dead from the hive and young bees make orientation flights to accustom themselves to their surroundings. In the picture above, you can also see one bee entering the hive with pollen. Yes, though it’s still winter, our hazel trees are putting out great catkins full of food for the bees, and they found it. This is also a signal that the hive is producing brood. You bees are hatching and need food. How amazing that these insects are out and pollinating when most other insects and plants lay dormant.
Because there is not enough food for most bees in developed areas, we supplement our bees through the year with liquid sugar water in the warm months and a rich icing of sugar patties in winter. In our fist year of bee keeping, we used 100lbs of white commercial sugar. Why? Read all about sugars and bees here. In a nut shell, organic raw sugar is harder for the bees to digest, and organic cane sugar is too expensive. Also, if the bees eat nothing but sugar, the comb and honey reflects this- being white and sterile instead of yellow and nutritional. Bees still need pollen to live, and yes, there are pollen patties you can buy to supplement your bees, but economically, not a viable long term solution. At EEC Forest Stewardship, one of our restoration agricultural practices is planting perennial pollinator species to diversify our landscape. We also try to make sure the verities are blooming at different times of year with regularity, so the bees have something to eat all the time.
We’ll continue to work with bees at EEC, but also recognize we’re not expecting our production of honey to be a viable income in any way. Unless you’re driving a semi of bees up and down the orchards of North America, you will struggle to make money and most likely loose some. We have bees as indicators of the health of our land and plants. To see them thriving in February is a great sign, and we’re not seeing a mite infestation yet, though inevitably, they will come. This is when bee keeping becomes very toxic. You have to dose the hive with harsh chemicals to remove the mites. If you do not treat with chemicals, eventually, the mites can destroy the colony. Our hive has not been infested yet, and we did do a treatment in the fall, but this spring, unless we see mites in thee hive or on the bees, we’ll hold off on the chemicals. It’s a rough truth facing our human egos- better living through chemistry had turned out to be better poisoning through chemistry.
By observing the bees and understanding their rhythms, we can tune in to what’s going on in our environment. In return, the bees make honey, wax, royal jelly, and pollen, all important natural medicines. When we tend bees, even if we’re not actively supporting a box hive, we’re cultivating rich diversity of pollinator species, clean water, and a thriving environment for all species of life. Bees can thrive almost anywhere there is a pollination source, so even in cities, bees can survive, as long as there’s a flower some where nearby. Rooftop hives are a thing in many cities, but the supplemental food remains the main source of food for the colony. Again, you also have to take in pollutants like vehicle exhaust, acid rain, and other chemical concentrations more predominate in city environments. Still, bees remain an important ally for humanity, and will keep building comb and storing honey a long as they’re alive.