Pretty much every beekeeper on the planet is telling me how much honey their bees are making and how many swarms they’ve managed to catch this year — while here in Newfoundland my bees are still waking up from winter. It’s an acute reminder that all beekeeping is local beekeeping.
Let’s compare the weather forecast where I live with the weather forecast in Iceland.
Considering the windchill factor, the average temperature in St. John’s for the next week is 7°C (45°F). The average amount of sunlight per day is 5.8 hours.
Considering the windchill factor, the average temperature in Reykjavik for the next week is 7°C (45°F), exactly the same as St. John’s. The average amount of sunlight per day is 6.8 hours, one hour more than St. John’s. Even Iceland, a place that’s named after ice, has more bee-friendly weather than St. John’s.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at a province that’s relatively close to Newfoundland: Nova Scotia.
Considering the windchill, the average temperature in Halifax for the next week is 17°C (63°F), 10°C more than St. John’s. The average amount of sunlight per day is 8.6 hours, three hours more than St. John’s. While Reykjavik’s climate is nearly identical than St. John’s (though still sunnier), Halifax might as well be another planet compared to St. John’s. And I don’t even have to go that far to experience a difference in climate. Other places on the island of Newfoundland are vastly different (and warmer) from where I live too.
I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself. Here’s my point: When I first got into beekeeping in 2010, I followed a beekeeping group out of southern California called the Backwards Beekeepers. I’m thankful for having discovered those beekeepers because they inspired me to pursue beekeeping. Like everyone else, I was guilty of idealizing beekeeping like it was heaven on earth, but I was also profoundly misinformed by taking my lead from a group of beekeepers who live in a climate so much sunnier and warmer than mine that they could virtually ignore their bees most of the time and the bees would survive. I could never do what they do. I can’t even do what beekeepers in other (warmer) parts of Newfoundland are doing right now.
So I’ll say it again: All beekeeping is local beekeeping.
If there are any rules in beekeeping for me, that one is close to the top. I do what works in the micro-climate of my backyard, my little beeyard, which is not necessarily the same as anyone else’s.
Except maybe Iceland’s.
I often get asked these kinds of questions: Should I start/stop feeding my bees now? Is now a good time to add/remove honey supers? Should I wrap/unwrap my hives now? My answer is I don’t know what anyone should do right now because no one else has their bees in the specific micro-climate of my backyard, where it might be warmer, colder, sunnier, or shadier than your backyard. 10 million flowers could be in bloom in the area of my beehives and only a million might be in bloom in the area of your hives. My bees might not be able to forage often because of strong winds, whereas yours could be foraging all the time in a sheltered glade. All of these local environmental conditions affect the health of a honey bee colony, which determines when and what individual beekeepers can do with their bees.
Just because some beekeeper in California can build up a three-deep colony with foundationless frames from a nuc in two months doesn’t mean I can do it here in Newfoundland. Just because some beekeeper in the cold windy prairies wraps their hives for winter doesn’t mean I need to wrap my hives in a sheltered wooded area. The same can be said about a beekeeper down the road from me. When someone says that all beekeeping is local beekeeping, that’s what they mean. As much as we’d like to know exactly what to do and when to do it, beekeeping just doesn’t work that way. Not from what I can tell.