Overwintering honey bees prefer tree holes with a tiny entrance and plenty of beekeeping insulation for the winter above, below, and all around them. This allows the bees to regulate the hive’s airflow while keeping the hive warm and protecting the wintering cluster from the weather.
The entrance and size of the hive in the less natural setting of a beehive are determined by the decisions made by the beekeeper. Structured, wooden hives, with walls generally less than one inch thick, do not provide the same amounts of insulation that bees would seek in nature.
Hives In The Snow
Bees in the wild and in beehives may and do survive the winter despite these differences. As with every aspect of beekeeping, however, ensuring that your bees survive the winter requires weighing the benefits and drawbacks in order to strike the optimal balance for your hive in your specific area. How much and what kind of beekeeping insulation for the winter is considered “just right?”
In this article, we will examine winter beehive insulation.
Temp-Related Shifts in Cluster Behavior
When the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, honey bees will begin to cluster together to keep warm and safeguard the queen. This protective mechanism lessens the colony’s exposure to harsh elements by decreasing its exposed surface area. The colony’s metabolic rate drops dramatically at 40 degrees. This means they will utilize fewer reserves than we normally see at other temperatures. In fact, this is why beekeepers who keep their hives warm throughout winter prefer a temperature of roughly 40 degrees.
However, bees switch to a new strategy when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. For the purpose of creating heat and maintaining a comfortable temperature inside the cluster, the bees within it will begin to flex and relax their wing muscles.
Over the course of winter, the cluster often moves higher up in the hive, using materials from the store as they go. The objective here is to avoid any shortages of essentials throughout this process.
It is not unusual for a colony to perish despite having enough food stored up in the hive. If there is a broken route of usable resources while temperatures stay low, the cluster may not be able to make it over that gap.
The Pros and Cons of Condensing
Insulating a hive makes for a much more manageable habitat for the bees. The likelihood of condensation forming in uninsulated parts of a hive is higher. As a result, many beekeepers find that they need to air their beekeeping insulation for the winter hives less during the winter due to the absence of moisture. Condensation can be controlled, but there’s no need to go to extremes to do so.
Dry air is hard to get by in cold climates. This means that condensation may occur when the warm air from the cluster comes into contact with the cooler air within the hive. In very cold climates, this condensation may build up as ice within the hive, which may eventually melt and drop from the top of the cluster. One should try to stay away from either possibility.
Administrative Control of Space
Going into winter with the appropriate hive layout is essential, regardless of whether you choose for insulation or not and regardless of the kind of hive you use. More boxes are required for bigger hives and fewer are required for smaller hives, much as a larger home is needed for a larger family. Even if the home is well-built and has beekeeping insulation for the winter it will still need extra energy to heat during the winter.
There is no distinction between bee hives and any other kind of home. To use an extreme example, if you put five frames of bees into a triple deep, the cluster would have to work significantly harder to maintain its temperature, even in a well-insulated hive. However, in colder areas, a huge colony housed in a single deep could not have enough food to survive the winter.
You need to figure out what works best for your local environment and bees. While bees aren’t actively trying to warm the hive itself (just the cluster), doing so will make the bees’ job of keeping the cluster warm easier.
For the purpose of overwintering, beekeepers often prepare their hives by stocking them to capacity and providing enough ventilation. Many beekeepers try to fight this by increasing airflow in the hive by opening the bottom and top entrances throughout the winter. Some beekeepers go the further mile and use a completely screened bottom board throughout winter to further promote airflow.
Putting a quilt box on top of a hive is one technique to increase the level of insulation. In the winter, beekeepers often stack an additional box on top of their brood boxes and fill it with wood shavings or sawdust. Condensation will form either inside the layer of shavings or above them on the inner cover when the heat rises from the cluster. In any case, the sawdust or wood shavings will take in the moisture and expand as a result.
Most quilt storage containers include openings to let condensation dissipate on sunny days. Blanket boxes are excellent at trapping and releasing moisture, although insulated outer and/or inner coverings may provide similar warmth without the need for a quilt.
Concealment Cloaks for Beehives
To further beekeeping insulation for the winter your hives for the winter, you may also use a hive wrap as part of your winter hive maintenance routine. Wrapping your whole hive with these insulating blankets can help keep the cold air from seeping in through the walls. The bees will need to use less energy keeping the cluster at a constant temperature if it is more insulated.
Wrapping The Hive in Vinyl
Historically, beekeepers have utilized tar paper from roofs, hay, and even snow in very cold regions to accomplish the same result. Nowadays, a beekeeper who wants to insulate a regular wooden hive may either buy a prefabricated hive cover or utilize foam board insulation from a hardware shop.
You may also use pre-insulated hives if you like. Beekeepers have been experimenting with insulated hives for quite some time; in fact, some of Langstroth’s first hive designs were double-walled hives. Insulating the hive in the winter “with sawdust, or any other suitable non-conductor of heat” is one way to “provide additional protection,” as proposed in Langstroth’s 1852 patent“.
A slatted rack is an infrequently used hive attachment that may aid in controlling the hive’s environment by allowing for more air circulation. Simply put, this is a shallow box (no more than a few inches high) that goes above the hive entrance and below the lowest brood box.
Modern, well-insulated beehives often replace the basic wooden framing with synthetic insulation. Ultimately, the r-value (a measurement of a material’s resistance to heat transmission) is what matters. Typical hives have an r-value of less than 1 due to their thin walls, which are often constructed from planks thinner than an inch. The R-value of most modern beehives is 5 or more, making them more comparable to the natural tree cavities that wild bees would normally inhabit.
The only guaranteed way to determine how well your winter hive setup worked is whether your colony survives the winter, but diligent beekeepers may also monitor their hives to see how their winter preparations are doing. Weight, temperature, and humidity can all be tracked with the use of electronic sensors, with the data even being sent to your smartphone.
The cluster’s position in a hive may also be determined with a stethoscope but in a more traditional approach. You may also use a FLIR thermal imaging camera to see where the cluster is and how hot it is, as well as to see where heat is escaping from the hive. Do not, under any circumstances, open the hive during cold weather in order to prevent disrupting your clustered bees.
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