Here Comes the Sun

If you are in the far north, your bees are not quite at mid-point in their winter marathon. But days are getting longer. It is amazing how bees – and flowering plants – recognize even a few minutes of extra light. I kept bees in Florida for about a dozen winters and was always surprised by the maples and willows during the first week of January. The trees were already waking up from their three-week winter drowse. Buds were swelling and maples were producing pollen in early January. In central Florida, days are 9 minutes longer now than on the shortest day of the year. The plants notice. And the bees, of course, notice the plants.

Central Florida has seasons. Some trees loose leaves; there might be frost. And after six months of shortening daylight, the winter’s brief pause, and then slowly lengthening days, flowers like to blossom. Central Florida – home to some of the country’s best queen breeders – experiences a genuine spring. But some places don’t enjoy such a reawakening. I heard that queen breeders on Hawaii’s big island may take some colonies part way up Mounts Kea or Loa (which rise over 13,000 feet or 4,000 metres above sea level) so the bees enjoy a touch of winter. A few weeks later, they move the dormant bees back to the eternal gardens below the looming mountains, having tricked the bees into believing spring has arrived. The advantage to all this mischievous chicanery by the queen breeders is that the bees raise more drones, and queen cell production is easier. The bees think it is spring – and they do what bees are supposed to do in the spring.

Meanwhile, here in western Canada, a few hours north of Montana, the days are also getting longer. Once again we have survived the worst that the tilted Earth can throw at us. Our shortest day had less than 8 hours but already we’ve won back a delightful amount of sunshine. But the Canadian flowers – buried under snow – don’t seem to know it yet.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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