It started as a joke at choir rehearsal. The bitter winter killed off all the bees and some wise guy suggested that we bring them inside for the winter.
Roars of laughter as we all contemplated John and the bees watching football in his mancave.
More laughter at the death glare I shot at my husband because I know the wheels are spinning in his brain. He has already been scouring the internet. How do bees survive the winter in places like Idaho? They bring the bees inside to potato cellars, which are dark (so the bees sleep) and a constant temperature (cool but not cold).
Alas, people are researching this. Granted, they are not researching it for the backyard beekeeper, but the information is out there…
Research is currently being conducted on controlled environment wintering. A temperature somewhere in the mid- or low-40° F (5° C) range, total darkness, ventilation to reduce excess moisture and humidity, and fall feeding of Fumidil B to suppress nosema disease are some of the major considerations. Provision for refrigeration should be considered also because sudden warming spells in late winter or early spring could result in undue restlessness and activity within the controlled-environment room. Colonies on flat-bed trailers that can be rolled outdoors or back into the room during warm or cold trends also would be desirable.
Unfortunately, we have such a space. It is the room of outer darkness. The entry is through the death trap known as “Dad’s Workshop.” Well, that’s what the sign over the door reads. It’s more like a holding bin for every man-toy needed to do any man task, a conglomeration of total disorganization amidst whiffs and piles of sawdust.
The room of outer darkness is a full cinderblock basement room under the side porch. In an earlier vision of our house, the side porch was going to be a library-sunroom but we eliminated it to save a few thousand dollars and because it was over-the-top not needed. However, by the time the room was cut from the project, the basement was already in place. (Don’t even ask.)
The room of outer darkness is underground with–duh–no windows, so it is dark. Being below ground, it maintains a constant cool temperature. It is ventilated, so air circulates. It could be a good wine cellar, except that we can’t keep wine in the house long enough to bother storing it way back there. And there is very real danger involved with walking through “Dad’s Workshop.”
So, is the outer darkness the right kind of “cool” for the bees? The main mancave, when the woodstove is not on, stays in the 50’s, which is great for using the treadmill but too warm for hibernating bees. Mr. Beeman would have to monitor the temp in the outer darkness to see how cool it really is. The last thing we would want is bees waking up to take a cleansing flight in the mancave while we are watching TV.
That raises another question. Can bees last an entire winter in a cool, dark room without occasional bathroom breaks? This winter was difficult, not just because of the bitter temperatures, but because of the extended stretch of days that never went above 50. Bees take advantage of balmy winter days to relieve themselves.
Would the bees be better off outside with better winter protection? Rusty, at Honey Bee Suite, successfully overwintered by using a quilt board and wood chips. Moisture in the hive is a bad as cold, and the woodchips successfully insulate and absorb moisture. Mr. Beeman might want to check out the following link:
Fortunately, Winter 2015 appears to be over. New bees arrive (we hope!) the end of this month. That gives Mr. Beeman an entire season to research the dilemma of Winter 2016 and to maybe clean out his shop and the room of outer darkness. Hmmm…if overwintering the bees inside gets him to clean out the basement, it just might be worth it.