Twice this week I received photos of open-air honey bee colonies. Open-air colonies in regions with cold winters are not common, so they tend to receive a lot of attention.
The first photo is of a colony I wrote about in the fall of 2014. If you recall, the colony was discovered in a cottonwood tree in the high desert community of Maupin, Oregon (45.1739° N). Deciding the colony was unlikely to survive an Oregon winter, a band of intrepid beekeepers designed and built a canvas tent with a bottom opening that would help protect the bees from the elements.
The colony thrived and spent their second year in the same place. Now, once again, the colony is wrapped up for winter. In the photo below, you can see where the honey bees reinforced their canvas cover with propolis. Naomi Price, one of the original tent designers, writes, “The girls love their bottom entrance as an exit. There is a bee space along the bark of the tree and the canvas (1/2″ gap total) they use as their entrance.” It is interesting to note that no other human interventions were applied to this colony.
Thanks, Naomi, for the photo and update.
The other colony I learned about did not fare so well. These bees chose a shrub on a golf course in the town of Catskill, New York (42.2167° N). As you can see, the colony was large and completely exposed to the elements. Beekeeper Mite Riter sent the photos but says he did not get to see the colony himself.
Mike says the bees are rumored to have built a new nest on a nearby bush or tree every year for several years. I suspect that spring swarms are choosing the same location each year, attracted by the scent of the previous year’s colony. In any case, the combs are complex and fascinating, with irregularly sized cells, hidden passages, and few parallel combs.
Thanks, Mike, for sending the photos, and be sure to let us know what happens next year.