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Solar-powered beehive coolers increase yields

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Courtesy of The Oregon Garden

(Read caption) Beekeepers in protective clothing perform regular maintenance at the Oregon Garden's beehive station. All four hives are equipped with solar-powered hive coolers, which have increased honey yields.

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The Oregon Garden, in Silverton, recently reported a harvest of 300 pounds of honey from four first-year beehives, each of which is equipped with a solar-powered hive cooler.

Part of a new bee education program at the 80-acre botanical sanctuary, the hives [first photo above] are installed and maintained by Mark Thompson, who occasionally assists with the garden’s bee education workshops and lectures.

(Mr. Thompson is a specialty coffee roaster who works with indigenous farmers to ensure that they get a fair wage for their product. He first became interested in bees about 18 years ago when a man at his church had to give up bee farming because of health issues. Thompson volunteered his labor to keep the bee farm open.)

Why the results might have been different

"First-year hives don't usually produce much of anything because the bees are busy establishing the colony," Thompson explained.

He went on to say that the Oregon Garden hives were started as "nucs" or nuclear colonies, which are smaller versions of a normal beehive, containing less than 10 percent of the workers in an established colony. This not only makes them less productive, but also more vulnerable to winter weather.

"Under ideal conditions, a nuc hive might produce 30 to 40 pounds of honey in its first year, but the hives with the coolers averaged 75 pounds," Thompson said. The Oregon Garden [see second photo above; click arrow at right base of first photo.] has an abundance of early spring flowers, which also contributes to the hives' success.

How the coolers help

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