Our late winter weather has been more favourable to bees than last year and though we haven’t completed our late winter check-ups we are optimistic that the survival rates are, at worst, average. Alberta is not an easy climate for honey bees in winter so proper management is essential – but still no guarantee of success. Yes, it does sound a lot like gambling!
Since honey bees are not native to North America we sometimes ask ourselves if our efforts are futile. However bees have been evolving for over a million years so an Alberta winter is hardly the worst event the species has endured. ‘Darwinian Beekeeping’ is an interesting, relevant concept introduced by Dr. Tom Seeley. Can honey bees survive in our country without human assistance?
His research took place in the forests of upstate New York. He located wild honey bee nests in the forest by tracking the foraging bees (no small feat!) to their homes. He found the nests were widely spaced, approximately 1 km apart, all located high above the ground in tree cavities and they foraged on a wide variety of sources. By capturing swarms from the parent nests he also determined that they were surviving in spite of low level parasitic varroa mite infestations. And after observing little change in the nest numbers over a period of years he concluded the answer is ‘Yes’. Dr. Seeley’s book is very interesting and he details many differences between wild and managed honey bees. It’s a good resource for anyone wanting to apply Darwins ‘theory of evolution by natural selection’ to their honey bees, but be aware of the potential dangers he discusses as well!