Schrodinger’s Bees

A new year’s begun and the snow has finally gone. Temperatures have even reached a balmy 12°C – which, after 6 weeks of permafrost and sub zero conditions, is heaven.

Even if the roof’s started leaking again. Buy that’s a small price to pay for the wind veering from the Arctic north to the wet and windy southwest.

Luckily it’s not raining all the time. Yesterday we had a couple of hours of warm sunshine which brought our bees out.

Winter is a trying time for beekeepers. The bees shut up shop when the temperatures drop in late autumn and, hopefully, re-emerge in early spring. In the meantime, they survive by forming a huge ball of bees to keep their temperature up, and moving, as one, around the stores of honey in the hive. In a long, cold winter, the supplies run out and you have to add extra food in the form of fondant. But you don’t want to open the hive up to check on them and let even more cold air in – so you monitor the hive health by weighing the hive every week and only adding food when the weight drops to critical.

Starvation isn’t the only problem bees face in winter. Condensation in the hive is a big killer. As is the cold. The percentage of hives that fail every winter is high, but there’s very little that a beekeeper can do about it. All through winter you have a Schrodinger’s Bees situation. Are the bees dead or alive? And should I open the hive to find out? But the act of opening the hive wouldn’t just collapse the uncertainty, it would introduce cold air too – cold air that could kill off the bees if they were alive.

My wife has taken a middle line that Schrodinger never considered. She sneaks up to the hive and gives it a slight nudge. Bees, and one supposes cats too, do not appreciate the sudden shift in their world. They make a noise. So, if there’s a low buzz, the observer knows the state of the hive without having to open it up.

With yesterday’s sun, however, the bees collapsed their own uncertainty and left the hive in their hundreds for a cleansing flight. Cleansing flight? Let’s just say, that bees prefer not to defecate inside the hive. And the weather had kept them inside for nearly two months.

I saw a lot of pleased bees.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his  BVC bookshelf 

Recently released from Book View Press: French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.

International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a  glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget  Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!

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Schrodinger’s Bees — 5 Comments

  1. I haven’t met her yet, and I already love your wife. That sounds like something I’d do. Glad to know that it didn’t bother the bees at all, and that they are happy and ready for something to bloom!

  2. Everything I hear about the behavior of bees is amazing.

    Too bad they are not the optimal addition to small condominiums in the middle of the megalopolis!

  3. There is a beehive down on Constitution Avenue in downtown Washington DC. It is in the Smithsonian’s Natural History museum, in the Insect Lab. A clear plastic pipe connects the hive to the outside, so that you can watch the bees potter in and out. The hive is also housed under clear plastic — it is intensely popular among the small fry. I have no idea if the museum harvests any honey. The number of pollen-bearing plants downtown must be few.

  4. You’d be surprised how much pollen there is around. We decided to get bees not so much for the honey, but to pollinate our orchard – which has been suffering from poor setting of fruit. Every March/April we have massive amounts of blossom and hardly any bees up there – except for a few hardy bumbles.

    So we sited our hive on the edge of our garden and orchard, watched the bees scout the area … and then fly off in the opposite direction. They preferred our wood! They really seem to like the assortment of tree pollen – alder, willow, lime, spruce etc.

    They also range pretty far – so a mile or two is not unusual.