The best thing we can do for our Rogue Farms honeybees during winter is to leave them alone. Each time we open a hive, even briefly, it exposes the bees to cold temperatures that can be deadly to them.
But we broke that rule this winter, and it’s a good thing we did.
Three weeks ago when the National Weather Service warned us the farm was about to be flooded, we got busy moving stuff out of the flood plain. That included our 7,140,289 Rogue Farms Honeybees. There wasn’t enough time to wrangle a forklift. We moved every single hive by hand.
Not long after we were done, the rising floodwaters from the Willamette River began flowing over the road and into the hopyard.
But our bees were high and dry.
During the move our Beekeeper Andrew opened the hives to check on their condition. What we saw surprised us. Lots of dead honeybees. A recent cold spell was harder on them than we realized.
It’s natural for honeybees to die off in winter. Beekeepers know they’re going to lose about 15% of their colonies in cold weather, no matter how good they are at tending to their bees. (For a variety of reasons, winter losses have doubled during the past decade, and summer losses are even higher.)
We work really hard to take care of our honeybees and are proud of it. So while these losses aren’t unusual, we were upset they happened at all. The first question we asked ourselves was, “How do we fix this?”
Every winter we send our hives to California to pollinate the almond orchards. The bees love it down there. There’s plenty of pollen and nectar to feed on and the temperatures are warm. When the honeybees come back to us the following spring they’re healthy and happy.
In a normal year there’s no rush. But this winter we’re going to load them up and move them south as soon as possible. With the floodwaters gone and the roads open, the big move will happen any day now.
Why go to all this trouble for our honeybees?
Our bees are important to us. They pollinate our marionberries, jalapeños and pumpkins. They produce the delicious honey we use to brew our mead, kolsch, braggot and sodas. They’re so good at making honey that the National Honey Board honored them with a Best In Show medal at the annual Honey Beer Competition.
Our honeybees take care of us and we take care of them.
Drop in at Rogue Farms this winter and no, you won’t be able to see the honeybees. But you will be able to drink the brews we crafted with their honey. By next spring, they’ll come home to us and will renew the cycle of making honey and pollinating our crops.