Bryan Ashurst of Ashurst Bee Company has been coming up with innovative uses for his cold storage facility that serve the unique needs of his operation. Located in the desert between the Salton Sea and Mexico, outdoor temperatures often skyrocket higher than is safe or comfortable for his crews. To combat this issue, Bryan uses cold storage as a venue for some of his spring and summer management, starting as early as the bees return from almond pollination.
As soon as the bees return from almond pollination, they are brought to the cold storage facility to be sorted. Strong hives are given queen excluders and honey supers and are sent to the field for a few weeks to produce honey. Weak hives will be combined or culled in preparation for the start of a new season. Once the strong hives have produced a good amount of honey and the flow slows down, they are brought back to the cold room to produce new splits.
Parent colonies are brought to the cold room and set in rows where their bees are shaken out of hive boxes and into shaker cages. Once the shaker cages are full, they are put into a cool, screened room held at 55°F. The lower portion of a wall of the cold room is screened to the outside, so natural light is let in to allow workers to see what they are doing. Bryan says that bees will fly to the screens and land there, and that they scoop those bees back into the shaker cages. He’s not sure how necessary this is as these bees are likely older and may die soon anyway, and queen acceptance in the new hives may be better without older bees present. For now, it seems like acceptance is about the same with or without recaptured bees from the screens, so he will keep collecting them.
After the shaker cages are filled, bees get shaken directly into a new single deep to form a new colony. Metal rings are used to measure how many bees are added to each deep to ensure the same number of pounds of bees are added to each hive. A queen inside a queen cage with candy is already waiting inside these new sets of equipment. These new colonies are then moved into a traditional cold room that remains totally dark. They are in the cold room for two days before they are removed and placed in the field. The bees do not attempt to eat through the candy in the queen cage while in the cold room, but once the hives are placed outside the queens will be laying within three to four days. The two day waiting period likely contributes to queen acceptance and also helps minimize drift. Bryan says that there is the potential for a lot of drift to occur when the hives are first set outside after being in the cold room. To try to prevent this, they will space the pallets out further and rotate them to face different directions which seems to alleviate any major drifting problems. After the new hives are removed from the cold room, new parent colonies are brought in and the whole process starts again until Bryan has cycled through his entire operation.
Using the cold room, Bryan can make about 700 3-pound colonies of bees per day. There are a few key aspects of this system that streamline the process and allow for such high productivity. Because everything is brought together in one location where the cold room is located, Bryan is able to cut down on a lot of driving between yards and multiple locations. The whole setup takes the form of a streamlined assembly line with optimized speed and efficiency. His crews are able to work comfortably out of the hot sun and well within the number of days and hours per week allowed by California labor laws. Bryan also uses his cold room for a brood break later in the season when temperatures are typically well above 100°F. These are just a few examples of uses for indoor storage other than overwintering, and we expect to see more beekeepers dabbling with these alternative practices as spring and summer weather becomes less and less predictable.
Learn More about indoor storage of honey bees:
Project Apis m.'s Indoor Storage Resource Page
Guide to Indoor Storage of Honey Bee Colonies in the USA
Hopkins Honey Bee Lab At Washington State University