This has been a challenging year for beekeepers in Greece. Excessive rainfall, which lasted unusually long into the summer months, washed off the nectar from the flowers, or even caused flowers to fall off altogether. Rain has also prevented the bees from going foraging, forcing them to consume the honey they had already collected.
On top of that, the second half of summer was particularly dry with high temperatures that lasted until mid-September. Not good at all for honey production, following the rainy first half.
This sounds like a catastrophic scenario, and indeed it may become one if beekeepers aren’t alert for such phenomena, and prepared to take appropriate action.
One of the things we do to overcome such problems, is moving the hives to locations with a “bee-friendly” climate, more appropriate for producing honey.
Why we relocate beehives
Relocation is a big chapter in beekeeping, so I thought I would explain a few things about the importance of relocating and how this helps maintain the high quality of the honey we produce.
The beehives are moved to different spots throughout the year anyway, and not just to avoid unpredicted weather changes. This ensures the bees have access to the best available sources of pollen and nectar, depending on the type of honey we want.
But first things first: Before we pick the new spot for our hives, there are important decisions to be made. For example, are we looking for areas rich in pollen, or nectar (or honeydew, in the case of pine trees)?
Pollen is essential for providing young bees with protein that helps them grow strong. Nectar and honeydew, on the other hand, are the raw materials used by bees for producing honey. We decide what type of environment we are looking for, depending on what we are trying to achieve at any given time.
A meticulous research process
So, before each move, we do our research to ensure our beehives are transported to the best possible location, that will help us keep the desired honey quality. You also want to eliminate any potential risks that would result in a poor crop, before you go to the trouble of transporting a colony.
You need, for example, to constantly observe the weather conditions at your next potential destinations, to increase your chances of a good quality crop. In an ideal world, you need a period of frequent, light rainfall before, and generous sunshine during flowering, with mildly warm temperatures – too hot and your crop might be ruined.
This past summer in Greece we generally had a lot of rain during flowering season, and particularly hot weather afterwards. One of the plants that were affected was a bush widely known as Jerusalem thorn (Paliurus spina-christi), that helps produce especially fragrant wildflower honey. To have access to Jerusalem thorn flowers at the right time and under the right weather conditions, beekeepers this year have been in a constant game of hide-and-seek with the weather.
Temperature and humidity play the most important role in successful flowering. Around 20οC and moderate humidity levels, for instance, are great and indeed especially favourable to the production of honeydew, which gives us the wonderful Greek pine tree honey.
The new spot – Important factors to consider
A beekeeper is always contemplating the next relocation of their hives, processing countless details in their mind at any given time, to make sure they make a safe decision that will benefit their crop as much as possible.
The following are just a few of the most important things that need to be taken into account:
The last transfer at the end of any season takes the beehives at the spot where they’ll be spending the winter. Bees are easily capable of surviving the winter if we make sure they are fed well during the cold months. However, they do not cope with humidity very well, as it makes them more prone to diseases, so this has to be a low humidity location.
Their winter spot should also face away from freezing northern winds and should be free from bees’ natural enemies, such as wasps and swallows.
Whatever spot we choose for our beehives, it should be easily accessible and, most importantly, there should be an easy way out in case of fire.
It should also be located away from crops that use pesticides, which may kill the bees and contaminate the honey.
Last but not least, special care needs to be taken during the actual transfer. In Greece, for example, we always move beehives after nightfall, when temperatures are lower. It is already quite stressful for bees to be confined in the hive, so they are prone to overheating and might die.
Defining the quality of your honey
The honey that you put on your breakfast table is a result of a long, and somewhat adventurous process of chasing the next perfect spot for the bees. With global climate steadily shifting, it’s now more challenging than ever to study an area’s local climate and make informed decisions about safe beehive relocation.
Successfully planning a series of safe moves, and alternating beehives between areas rich in pollen and nectar or honeydew, is a game of consecutive strategic decisions. Striving to keep a strong and healthy colony that produces top quality honey may be a dangerous process that often results in casualties. However, it’s definitely rewarding in terms of the magnificent, natural honey that we all like to indulge in.