Blue Diamond Almond Facts November-December 2021



Spending More Time Indoors is What’s in Store for US Honey Bee Colonies In the dim, red glow of the immense warehouse’s lights, tall stacks of wooden boxes are lined up in seemingly endless rows, where they will stand for the next couple of months until spring returns to California. But this is not just a warehouse full of surplus beekeeping equipment — it is an indoor storage facility — and the boxes aren’t empty, but filled with live, honey bee colonies, waiting out the winter weather in this chilly, climate-controlled facility.

Storing bees indoors over the winter months is not new in North America; for many years, some beekeepers in Canada and the northern US have kept colonies inside over the winter to reduce their prolonged exposure to harsh conditions in a wide variety of structures, from cellars, to converted potato and onion sheds, to buildings designed and built specifically for honey bee storage, equipped with the latest climate control and air exchange systems to maintain optimal temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide concentrations and air exchange conditions. Over the last several years, indoor storage has been rapidly gaining greater popularity among US commercial beekeepers and an increasing number of colonies are spending time indoors. This recent increase in interest to temporarily house honey bees indoors is born not only out of the desire to reduce winter losses by providing protection from winter conditions, but also because of additional benefits to honey bee health and the bottom line that the timely use of indoor storage may offer some commercial beekeeping operations.

would otherwise be unnecessary when wintering colonies indoors. Holding yards can also have extremely high colony densities, with hundreds of colonies (or more), often from multiple beekeeping operations, kept in close contact until they can be moved into almond orchards. This can result in a greater amount of accidental bee drift between colonies, which increases the transmission risk of harmful pests and diseases, compared to indoor storage facilities that are kept sufficiently cool and dark so that the bees remain within their hives and do not fly. It is possible to successfully overwinter strong, healthy colonies outside in cold climates, provided they have been adequately insulated and provisioned, therefore avoiding the problems associated with moving colonies to warmer temperatures. But because they are subjected to external environmental conditions, bees will still break cluster and fly on nice days if it is warm enough. This can reduce colony size over time since a portion of the bees who

To avoid harsh winter conditions, US commercial beekeepers often move colonies to holding yards in California or other states where the weather is much milder. However, colonies wintering in warmer environments will continue to remain active, rearing brood, and consuming greater resources than they would at cooler temperatures. This results in costs incurred for the labor, travel and supplies needed to feed and manage these colonies during this period that Figure 1: Tall stacks of honey bee colonies wintering in an indoor storage facility. Photo credit: Kelly Kulhanek

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