Image credit: Neil Kelley, used under Creative Commons license.
With Colony Collapse Disorder continuing to wreak havoc on bee colonies, some beekeepers have been looking to hardier, less domesticated bees to build up a stronger gene pool. From the native stingless bees of Australia to the native black honeybee in Britain, it would seem to make sense to learn from and even work with honeybees that have survived in the wild. But others are taking a different approach—installing high-tech solar-powered cooling devices to keep their bees happy and unstressed. Is this a smart move, or a dangerous precedent? I should note, first off, that I am by no means an expert. As evidenced by my own sad tale as a failed beekeeper, I am very much an enthusiastic amateur with a lot to learn. But instinctively I've always felt that a focus on feeding bees sugar, and on choosing ever more domesticated, gentle bees could have a negative impact by creating weak, over-pampered colonies that need constant attention. That's why, when I received a press release from The Oregon Garden about their high-tech, solar-cooled beehives, I couldn't help but worry:
They've been busy as, well, bees at The Oregon Garden and news is that they have 300 pounds of honey to show for it.
"It's an exceptional feat to have just four new hives produce that quantity in the first year," said Mark Thompson, who manages the new beekeeping program at The Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical sanctuary located 45 miles southeast of Portland, Oregon. Thompson attributes much of the success to "solar hive cooler" attachments that literally take the heat off the bees and help them to be more productive.
He explains that during the summer months, when the bee colonies are most active, bees assign certain workers to sit at the bottom of the hives and fan their wings in order to cool down their environment. But when the solar-powered coolers are attached to the hives, thermostatically controlled fans click on at a pre-set temperature, thus liberating more bees to collect pollen and make honey.
The cooling devices are also said to result in fewer hive mites, and less-stressed, calmer bees. But given the vastly complicated (and regimented) social structure of bee colonies, isn't there a risk that giving them what essentially amounts to an HVAC system will lead to bees that literally don't know how to look after themselves? As I say, I am not expert on the matter—so I would love to hear from beekeepers on what they think about such measures.
Sadly neither pictures of the devices nor the original press release were available on the Oregon Gardens website, but solar-powered hive ventilators are available for sale online. I have emailed for more information and will follow up if and when I get it.
More on Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony Collapse Disorder and the Epic Fight to Save the Bees
How to Compost Your Bees: Lessons from a Failed Beekeeper
Vanishing of the Bees: A Documentary
White House Garden to Feature Bees Too