It’s been a crazy winter here in Portland. Or rather, should I say “non-winter”? While the East Coast was being hammered by mountains of snow, Portland was basking in spring-like temperatures, sunny skies, and just a tad of east wind (which can ruin those nice temps sometimes).
With all the sun and warm weather, my bees have had plenty of chances to get their pointy little butts out of the hive. Not only have they been out gathering pollen to snack on, but they’ve also been taking care of rather less glamorous duties.
A Bit About Bee Poop
Bees are very tidy creatures who won’t poop inside their home. Many people think it’s the chilly temps of winter that kill bees. It’s not. It’s constipation. See, inside the hive it’s pretty darn toasty thanks to hundreds of bodies moving about–think of how warm your house gets when you have guests over versus when you’re home alone–so if a hive is healthy and full of bees, chances of freezing to death are fairly slim. Not impossible, but slim.
The problem cold causes is that to generate heat in chilly weather, bees need to eat more. It doesn’t take a degree in physiology to know the more you eat, the more you poop. Or, well, the more you need to poop. If you’re a bee and trapped in your hive because it’s too cold or too wet out to fly, um, yeah. This may be why bees are so grumpy when you open up the hive in winter–no one is happy when they’ve really got to go.
Warm Bees Are Happy (and Less Poopy) Bees
This is why it’s important to keep your hive as warm as possible in the winter by blocking it from wind, insulating, or (as I did) putting something dark on the roof to absorb some solar energy (As you can see in the photo, I also taped up two of the entrance holes to hold in a bit of heat). Warm bees have to eat less stored honey and less eating means less pooping. It also means more honey when spring does arrive!
Time to Go
Bees that have to hold it in too much poo for too long basically run the risk of poisoning themselves with their own waste. So, the second it’s warm and dry enough, bees are rushing out of the hive to go. You can almost hear them letting out a collective, “Ahhhhh.”
Oh, and if you have a backyard hive, you may want to resist the temptation to hang out your blankets and sheets to air out on those nice days…bee poop tends to stain.
Be Nice to Bees
Bees truly are fascinating creatures that tolerate a lot from us humans–believe me, I made it through a year of having no clue how to manage a hive, I bumbled and fumbled with the combs and still only received two stings from my feral swarm.
But we don’t seem to respect this. We dump toxins on their food sources (plants), we truck them all around the country (and stress them to no end) to service the monoculture systems of Big Ag, we fumigate them if they take up residence in the wrong place, we chuck chemicals into their hive trying to prevent diseases that only get stronger with each application, and we steal all their nutrient-rich honey and replace it with bee junk food: sugar water.
And yet these little critters keep pollinating our flowers so we can have fruit, veg and nuts, and gathering nectar so we can have honey. The least we can do is to try to treat them a little better. Buy honey from local beekeepers who keep their hives chemical-free and who don’t feed their bees over the winter, buy organic produce as much as possible, plant a bee garden, don’t use pesticides or herbicides, and, if you’re crazy enough, consider putting up a beehive or bee house in your own garden. After all, watching the bees is better than most things on television!
If you want to learn more about the plight of bees in today’s world, consider watching the following films (you can probably get them free from your local library):
- More Than Honey
- Vanishing of the Bees