What do beekeepers do in the winter, when our bees don’t need us? We rest, recuperate, build equipment for next year, plan, and…catch up on our bee reading, of course! I recently finished “Bee Time”, by Dr. Mark Winston, and it is a really fantastic read. It won the 2015 Governor General’s award for non-fiction, and is engaging and informative for both beekeepers and the general public. I loved this book; if you are one of the many, many people who have asked in recent years, “What’s going on with the bees?”, you want to read this book. Because the explanation is complex, but the solutions required are completely possible — all that is required is the will of the public to change the direction of our current agricultural system. For that to happen, people need to understand what the problems are, and Dr. Winston paints a clear and vivid picture of what is happening, and how we can turn it around in order to help bees and ourselves along with them.
Really want to know what is happening with the bees? Read this book. It does the best job of explaining the situation that I have encountered so far. I could tell you if we met at a cocktail party, but my explanation would be meandering, long, less entertaining and would contain way less science to back it up.
Here’s another highlight for me: Winston talks about how bees are really “rest-a-holics”, that is, they spend 2/3 of their time doing…nothing. Simply resting, or wandering about the hive. It would seem like a waste of time to us productive-happy humans. Yet, he says, this reserve of untapped “work” is essential when it comes to the hive being resilient. He talks about a study that I think his students did, where they monitored hives that had bees taken away for package production. Packaged bees are just that, a couple pounds of bees, shaken from 1 or more hives, and sold to other beekeepers along with a queen. After losing so many adult workers, you would think the hives shaken from would be permanently disadvantaged. Yet, the researchers found that those same hives rebounded, and caught up with control hives (no packages taken) by the end of the season. They did this by tapping this reserve of “rest-a-holic” bees — worker bees began to forage early then they normally would, and worked harder than they usually would, carrying more nectar. This enabled the colony to catch up in terms of production, but at great personal cost to the individual workers, who died much earlier than they normally would. Winston notes that this resiliency that the societies of honeybees maintain, by having individual member rest much of the time, could contain a lesson for human societies.
Here’s hoping you, dear, reader, are using the short days of winter to rest up a little too!