Well, I’ll Bee! Weather’s role in backyard beekeeping

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Q&A with Bee2Bee Honey Collective- Nicole Buergers:

A bee smoker is a device used in beekeeping to calm honey bees. Before we cracked open the hive Nicole explained to me that, “Because the bees communicate via pheromones, this clouds their alarm going off that is saying ‘Oh, someone just took off our roof, and is now rummaging through our house’! It mainly just distracts them.  

As we opened up the hive Nicole promised they bees would be on their best BEEhavior.  

“We have company, guys!”, she says to the swarm of bees.  

The temperatures are starting to warm up outside, is that why you are able to open up these hives now versus the colder months? 

“Right, we typically don’t open the hives in January because it is just so cold outside. They keep it 93-95 degrees inside the hive at all times. So, if we were to open up the roof of their house and expose that cold air to them, they wouldn’t like that very much”, Nicole says.  

How cold is too cold to open up the hive? 

“I don’t do it on days where it is below 60 degrees, but that varies from beekeeper to beekeeper. I like the overnight lows to be over 50 degrees for the whole 10 day-forecast so that i know there are not any freezing temperatures in the next week or so. Right now, in the spring, we are opening our hives every 10-14 days. They are growing so quickly with the new blossoms that are out.  

Bees have to prepare for the weather just like us!  

“There may not be that many new blossoms in the depth of January, so they have to store their food that they collect all year in the hive. It turns into their pantry, and they take food from their pantry to feed themselves during the colder days”, says Nicole. 

As Nicole sprays the bees with the smoker to relax the bees you can hear a loud buzzing overtaking our surroundings.  

Like humans, bees have body warmth. How do they keep each other warm during the winter time?  

Nicole says, “When it is extra cold, freezing outside, like we experienced in February, they will form a tight cluster. They vibrate and generate heat that way. All the bees stay warm in that tight ball. The queen is in the middle of that ball and they all take turns rotating in that cluster from the outside to the inside. It is pretty amazing”. 

What is the Queen’s role, you may ask? “She has one role and that is reproduction! She is laying the eggs to continue the family line”, says Nicole.  

The honey and baby bees are produced in those small holes of the hive.  

Nicole adds that, “They are storing all the fresh nectar and pollen that we have here in the spring. All of these different colors are different types of pollen. So those days that we experience high pollen counts… the bees and beekeepers love that! Us? not so much”.  

The afternoons are pleasant now, but before we know it, that brutal Texas heat will be here. We have established that they do not like the extreme cold, but what about the extreme heat? 

Nicole informs me that, “When it is hot outside, they have to work hard to cool down the hive. What they do is, collect water, they bring that into the hive and use their wings to evaporate the water, kind of like a swamp cooler!”. 

Connecting the dots to our weather, evaporation is a cooling process. It is why we see cooler temperatures after raindrops pass through dry air in the atmosphere. Evaporation requires taking heat from the environment for the phase change to occur. 

Nicole adds, “The most important thing that Houstonians can do for bees is put out a water source for the bees during the summer so that they have water available. They will need multiple GALLONS a day”.  

That’s a lot of water for those little insects.  

I asked Nicole to correctly explain the terminology of the bee’s living arrangement to clear things up.  

“Each of these boxes contains a different colony of bees, a different household. Technically the hive is the wooded ware inside”, Nicole says.  

Not only does the job of the bees involve protecting the queen bee, but also the baby bees!  

“Basically, this is a nursery”, says Nicole as she points out a new baby being born. “They are protecting their future sisters, the next generation. You know, their goals in life are to collect food to feed the eggs. They also want to extend their genetic line, and just grow and thrive.”, she adds.  

Grow and thrive… all of our life goals, correct? With a beehive in hand, I was surprised by how calming the process was, even knowing that bee stings hurt!  

Nicole assured me in saying that, “Beekeeping is a very cathartic hobby. It is a lot of the reason as to why people keep bees in the city. Not only for the benefits of pollinating their garden, but just the joy of learning about how the ecosystem of the bees works, how the colony works. Again, tending to the bees can be very cathartic and beautiful.” 

I noted how the vibrations of the bees buzzing around has a therapeutic effect as well.  

Nicole goes from home to home for her job. I asked her how people get started with beekeeping in their own backyard?  

“The majority of people who get into beekeeping are gardeners. I call beekeeping next level gardening. They think, ‘Okay, I’ve mastered my garden, I’m growing food, how can I do this in a better way?’. So having bees in your backyard just makes your neighborhood a better place. You are going to have more fruit, more blossoms, higher yields on your vegetables.”, Nicole states. 

Do beekeepers have to ever take action to protect the hive when the weather is less than ideal? For example, too cold?  

She responds, “Nope, the bees take care of it all on their own! They survive very well in all kinds of situations. However, we can help them out in a few ways. We can make sure they have enough food and can sustain their population by taking care of their nutritional needs. We can check the hives for any types of diseases beforehand to make sure they are healthy and strong going into those temperatures.” 

As Nicole takes the hive off of my hands, she points out the fact that the majority of the bees are females. 

“These are all females except for this guy right here. He doesn’t have a stinger; he is completely harmless. We call him a drone. Everyone else is a worker bee, and then there is the Queen.”, Nicole says as she spots the Queen bee.  

“It looks like she is laying eggs… Good job Mama!”, she adds.  

We shifted gears from the colonies to the garden to speak about the importance of rainfall. Flowers need the rain and the bees need flowers, but how much rain is too much? 

“If we get days and days of heavy downpours, the pollen will be washed out of a lot of the blossoms. That’s not good for the bees, they need that pollen. If there is too little rain, the flowers can keep the nectar to themselves and they don’t have extra for the bees to take from. It is this fine balance.”, says Nicole.  

Will wind or rain ever impact the actual structure of the colony? Or are they too closed off from the elements to be directly impacted in that way?  

“When it rains, they don’t get to go to work that day. They don’t get to leave the hive. They are cooped up inside and they really don’t like it. It makes them kind of grumpy. Their goal is to work and when it rains, they can’t go out to forage.”, Nicole states.   

Do bees sleep at night?  

Nicole says, “Yes, they do! They require sleep just like we do. They need a good night’s sleep to work hard they next day. 

Humans’ sleep patterns are impacted by length of daylight? Are bees impacted the same way?  

“They know that as soon as the winter solstice happens and the days start getting longer, that there is a difference in what they need to do in the hive. With each day having more sunlight, they will get up and get going earlier each day. They do like those longer days.”, says Nicole.  

Nicole teaches beekeeping via mentorship program.  
“Most beekeepers start on their own, but after the first year they quit. They either don’t know what they are doing, or their hive died. My goal is to create new beekeepers. Smaller beekeepers that have bee centric practices, and put the bees first. There are a lot of commercial beekeepers doing this on a grand scale, but my job when doing this is to educate the backyard beekeeper. I want to help them understand their hive and take really good care of their bees. I feel like that is the difference I can make to help the bee population.”, says Nicole.  

VISIT THEIR WEBSITE: https://bee2beehoney.com/

With everything that went on this past year, beekeeping would have really been a great hobby to pick up. It is time consuming, it is helpful for the environment, and at the end of the day you get some fresh honey out of it.  

“Fresh honey and fresh air!”, adds Nicole. 

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