Weird Spring

stark desert sun 2We are having weird, weird weather here in Alberta. It’s dry as a desert and almost as hot as one. Since January, our temperature has stayed well-above normal. Ten  degrees above normal, in fact. And that’s embarrassing.

It’s embarrassing because when I helped teach a couple of beginner’s bee courses this winter, I told the new beekeepers what to expect in the spring.  I led a session about nectar sources and their blooming periods in the Calgary area.

“Around April 15, you can expect the first pollen. It’s from crocus and pussy willow. The peak dandelion is May 25 and it’s our most important spring flow.”  Well, I sure didn’t anticipate anything like this season. So far, this year is proving me seriously wrong. We’ve had pollen since early March, over a month too soon. Bees collected frames of pollen by April 1. This week, I spied patches of dandelion. Not a full-blown dandelion nectar flow yet, but there is some yellow on south-facing hillsides. A month early. It’s probably not a good thing.

April dandelions in Calgary. The grass should be lush green from spring showers, but the drought has left it brown. Even the dandelion flowers look stressed.

April dandelions in Calgary. The grass should be lush green from spring showers, but the drought has left it brown. The dandelion flowers look stressed.

Unusual heat has advanced our season. This week we broke a hundred-year-old record. It reached 28C (83F) on Tuesday. That’s the warmest it’s been on this date in recorded history. Maybe that’s not so hot for you, but up here in Calgary, Canada, we’re getting summer temps. At this time of year, our normal high is 13C and our typical overnight low is below freezing. It has been warm for weeks. Our flowers are confused. We may have to get used to this erratic weather if climate change continues. (And that  looks likely.)

Our backyard cherry is also blooming a month early. This isn't good.

Our backyard cherry is also blooming a month early. This isn’t good.

What does a warm spring mean for bees? It might mean trouble later this year. Although the spring helps marginal colonies recover from the winter, the long-term consequences of all this heat can be bad. We will get a longer “June Gap” – the dearth between spring flowers and the main honey flow. This may force beekeepers to scramble to feed hungry hives during the gap. Further, with the early spring, bees may peak too early – already Calgary beekeepers are collecting swarms. When the summer flowers begin (clover and alfalfa for us), they may not last long. They may stop giving nectar in the heat and drought.

But the nice thing about all of this is that I could be completely wrong. Today’s Friday and it’s cool and cloudy for the first time in a days. By Monday it might be cold and rainy (or even snowy). And that would slow down the earlier blossoms, freshen the soil, and hold back the peak dandelion flow until May 25th or so. One can hope.

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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2 Responses to Weird Spring

  1. In the 25 years I have been keeping bees the phrase “it’s been a weird spring” seems to be cropping up more and more but your current weather in Canada seems to take the biscuit.

    Liked by 1 person

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