According to a report in The Connexion, retired French scientist Xavier Dumont is experimenting to discover if keeping beehives inside garages all winter can help to save the bees from collapse.

About 120 beekeepers contacted Mr. Dumont when he asked for volunteers. He sought enough participants for the experiment to have scientific validity and ended up with only 30 people that could do the necessary measurements and controls to ensure it meets scientific standards. Although he would have liked a few more, this number does make it enough for scientific validity.

French honey production is at historic low levels. In 1995, France produced around 32,000 tons of honey. In 2019, the harvest was lower than 10,000 tons. The National Union of French Beekeeping, UNAF, called last year’s honey harvest ‘disastrous’ and blamed the low volume on wet, cold, windy conditions. Many French regions suffered from frost as well.

Mr. Dumont was a professional beekeeper when he was young. After a career as a pharmaceutical researcher, he got back into beekeeping when retirement age approached about 10 years ago.

This unrelated 3:14-minute video by Business Insider shows a whole different concept of keeping bees indoors:



Mr. Dumont sees many changes in the beekeeping world. Winters were colder in the mid-70s and mid-80s, and the varroa parasite was not such a vast killer of bees and destroyer of beehives.

He lives near Toulouse now. During a recent winter, he witnessed a hive dying overnight during February when temperatures reached -10C. Bees can usually withstand this temperature. He concluded that the bees were weak since they went out so often, the queen bee continued laying eggs, and the varroa parasite count was high.

Mr. Dumont kept four hives in a cold, dark garage for 70 days after he recalled Canadian beekeepers bring hives inside for five months to protect them. His garage was never used for a car, so there are no fumes or other toxic poisons to harm the bees. He took them inside to protect them from warm winters, whereas Canadians brought them in to protect them from the cold. It seemed to work. 

He reported that all four hives survived winter and were strong for spring and summer with low varroa mite infestation rates. On fine days every three weeks the hives were taken outside so bees could perform bodily functions.

Mr. Dumont intends to document the results of his experiment and publish them in a beekeeping journal. His instinct is that this can help keep many commercial and hobby hives alive.

It does take some organizing. You must have a garage or cellar where you can keep the bees and be able to take them outdoors every three weeks or so. He hopes that the effort in terms of stronger hives and more honey will be worthwhile.

While climate change has impacted bees in recent years, bee colonies have also been heavily hit by habitat loss, diseases, pesticides, and the arrival of predatory species that kill bees, like Asian hornets.