Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter inspections: Checking on your bees in winter

In a single deep, the winter cluster is right under the cover.
Right now, the temperature here, in NW Ohio, is 16F (-8.8C) and Ohio, much like the rest of the northern USA is encased in snow and ice. Even if I wanted to, today is not a good day to be checking on the bees in winter.

This is our second winter storm for the season. The first one brought us almost 2 weeks of below-freezing temperatures and even some snow flurries. However, right before this second winter storm hit, we had a couple of days where the daytime high was 50F (10C). I took the opportunity to pop open a couple of lids and take a peek at the bees. I wanted to see how the insulation is holding out and whether I had any moisture collecting on the inner lids. Moisture is a big killer of bees in winter.

As expected, when I cracked the lid on one of my hives in 2 deep brood boxes, there was nothing to see. The cluster was still in the lower brood box. All you could see from the top were their honey stores - frame after frame of beautifully capped honey, a perfectly dry inner cover (the insulation on top is working!) and not a bee in sight. Even though the temperature was close to 50F, I know better than to start digging into a honey bee hive in the winter. I closed them up and went to check on the bees in single deep brood boxes.

I am going to take a few minutes and explain how I do inspections of my bees in winter. First, of course is: Always wear protection. You have probably heard that bees don't fly when the temperatures are below 50F (10C). This, of course is true. However, they will fly to protect their hive. A determined guard bee can usually make it from the entrance of the hive to your face and sting you before she succumbs to the cold. It bear repeating: Always wear protection, even if the temperature is 32F (0C). I also learned (through bitter first hand experience) that you should not use smoke when you are inspecting a beehive and the temperature is below 50F (10C). Even a puff of smoke can cause the bees to come pouring out of the hive entrance - quite the opposite to what one is accustomed to when doing inspections in the summer.

Bees in winter. The cluster forms off-center in a single deep box.
Now, let's get back to what I found under the cover of my single deep hive. The interesting thing to note in a single deep (or a nuc for that matter) is that the cluster forms off-center in the brood box. In a double deep, the cluster forms in the center of the bottom brood box and then slowly eats its way to the inner cover all through winter. In the singles and nucs, the cluster formed at the back (accross from the entrance). Through winter, the cluster will be making its way toward the entrance.

Finally, the inner covers on the singles were as dry as the inner covers on the double deep beehives.
A well propolized and most importantly dry inner cover
The insulation between the telescoping cover and the inner cover is doing its job - reducing the temperature differential between the bees warm breath and the wood of the inner cover.

To the left is a picture of the inner cover - well propolized and most importantly - dry! The circular pattern on the cover is from a bucket feeder that I used in the early fall. This inner cover is one of the first covers I made almost 5 years ago and is showing its age.

Have you been tempted to peek into your hives? What did you find? Leave me a note in the comments or drop me an e-mail from the links below this blog post!