YAKIMA, Wash. -- Last winter was very stressful for Yakima beekeeper Eric Olson.
"We were basket cases," said Olson.
Olson nearly lost it all the previous winter. He lost 9,000 hives he sent to California to avoid the Yakima cold. When he checked them out in the spring, they were all gone.
"It was the motivation that caused us to try something different," said Olson, "which was indoor storage."
Olson used a nearby fruit storage facility to store his pears and decided to also use it to store his hives.
He hoped the facility would keep the bees safe and he could control the temperature to help them spend a quiet winter.
What he couldn't control was the carbon dioxide produced by the bees in an indoor setting. As he watched the levels rise, he feared he might lose it all again and go bankrupt.
Instead, the bees emerged healthier and with less losses than any of bees over the last 36 years.
Researchers at the University of Washington were interested enough to urge Olson to recreate the precise conditions that led to the healthy hives. They will be there when he puts them back in storage this year.
Indoor bee storage isn't new, but doing it in a climate controlled fruit storage facility allows for scientific studies similar to that in a lab.
And now there is more reason to find out what is going on. Olson has learned that not only did his bees come out of cold storage healthier and better breeders, they are on the job longer and stronger. He said they are still producing honey long after they are normal done for the year.
With mounting fears that collapsing honey bee populations could threaten the world's food supply, scientists are hopeful an old school beekeeper in Yakima may have unlocked the secret to keeping them alive.