SmartBee Cold Storage: Giving Bees a Chance

Reader Contribution by Melanie Kirby
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Israel Bravo has been on a quest for the past decade to help bees and beekeepers. He has been keeping bees professionally for over 17 years. And while working as a team foreman for a large scale beekeeping operation in Idaho, he was inspired to help his fellow pollinator stewards.

Over the years, Mr. Bravo became familiar with cold storing of bees as various beekeepers were routinely placing their hives into potato cellars for overwintering. The idea to put bees into cold bunkers through the winter is not a new idea, but it has been of mixed results since humidity and CO2 levels have been able to be controlled. 

Israel recognized that there were issues with high humidity which lead to fungus, mold and mildew issues. Beekeepers would close their bees in the potato sheds and then have to go open it up at night to let fresh air in since the bees continue to respirate and CO2 levels would increase. With increase humidity, certain conditions manifest, such as chalk brood (Ascosphaera apis), which is a fungus that mummifies honey bee larvae.

He became dedicated to finding a solution to help bees and beekeepers. Little did he know that he would be able to find what he needed in his own backyard. He approached Agri-Stor, which specializes in modern potato cellars and sheds. He asked them if they had a “brain” that could help to control air flow in and out and also humidity. 

They did, and thus began a relationship to help bees and beekeepers. Israel has always wanted to help bees. One doesn’t stick with beekeeping for close to 20 years for any other reason. His efforts demonstrate that a small-scale beekeeper can help both small and large operations. It takes creative folks to look outside the norms and to visualize dreams that have been inspired by nature.

The inspiration is based in nature. Mother Nature and her cyclical seasons bring warm and cold, wet and dry climes across our landscapes. Bees that are able to overwinter in a cooler climate through the dearth have more potential to be healthier in that they are getting a break from the high paced race of spring and summer growth. The ability to rest during the dearth, and in an atmosphere of constancy, allows the bees to revive in the spring with higher fat bodies (vitellogenin) which allows them to rear their initial spring brood without the stress of mild winters (which doesn’t allow them to fully rest).

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