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Simplified Beehive Winterization

Beekeeping Made Easy

Simplified Beehive Winterization

Understanding How It All Works

As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, you may start to think about how to prepare your beehives for winter. There are a few things to keep in mind as you make your plans. In wrapping beehives, 2 key considerations must be taken into account: moisture and heat loss. 

You’ll want your hives in a way that prevents moisture from condensing on the inside of the hive, and you’ll also want to make sure that you don’t wrap them so tightly that they don’t have enough ventilation. If you live in an area where it gets very cold in the winter, you may also want to consider using insulating wraps on your hives. This can help to keep the warmth in and the cold out. There are a variety of ways to insulate hives, so you’ll want to choose the method that works best for you. 

By following these simple guidelines, you can help ensure that your hive will be protected from the elements and will provide a safe and comfortable environment for your bees all winter long.

Science it up!

Preparing your hives for winter is an important part of beekeeping. By taking the time to do it right, you’ll help to ensure that your bees can make it through the winter months and emerge healthy and strong in the spring.

Let’s talk about what causes moisture to build up in a colony, and to do this, we have to get a little scientific. Air moves in convection currents. These currents are propelled by the movement of hot air (more energy, less dense air) moving upwards, and cold (less energy, more dense air) sinking. The second Law of Thermodynamics is heat moves from hot to cold. This is to attempt to meet homeostasis and stop the movement of air.  So, the greater the contrast between hot and cold air within the hive, the more rapid the airflow. 

Remember that the bees create all of the heat in a colony. The more heat lost to convection, energy used and lost by the bees, means more eaten stores by the bees, and the greater the need to defecate in the long winter months. 

The Principle of Relative Humidity understands that warm air holds more moisture than cold air. This is because the space between air molecules is greater, allowing for more space for evaporated water molecules to fill. So, if you have an area of heat and an area of cold, the place where they meet will have condensation. This is because warm air loses energy, becomes denser, and squeezes the water molecules to condense. 

Taking this information together we learn two things about winter in a beehive: hot and cold spots are bad as they not only cause a colony to lose energy but will increase the rate of condensation within the colony. Our Guidelines recommend that you consider the 3 following issues

  • Space
  • Insulation
  • Ventilation

We will use the analogy of a house from here on out to help you understand our Guidelines

Space

If you have a hive that is larger than 2 deep boxes, the colony will run into trouble. The “basement” of the hive will stay cool as it will be further away from your bees and the cluster they maintain throughout the winter because the hive is too large to heat. The more food the bees consume to radiate this heat, the more they will need to go on cleansing flights throughout the winter (which can lead to dysentery and viral infection).

Insulation

Honey as a heat sink…

Your hives will survive the winter months if they have stored feed in their combs. During the cold months, these stores absorb and release heat to the bees, helping them maintain a constant temperature. The average temperature of your hive (if you live where snow falls) will be between 5 and 7 degrees Celsius (41 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit). This is because the weather is above or below freezing, the bees want to maintain that temperature to prevent fluctuations in the cluster and food consumption. The higher the fluctuation in the colony’s temperature, the greater the possibility of condensation, food consumption, and loss of food storage.

How you choose to add additional insulation to your hives is important. You can use tar paper or sleeves to block wind from entering the colony, or you may use an insulated wrap. The crucial aspect of offering this extra protection to your colonies is keeping the basement and the roof insulated. You may keep the Second Law of Thermodynamics (remember when I explained how dangerous heat exchanges are?) and the Principle of Relative Humidity in mind when insulating these locations. On the other hand, insulating the attic is important since it is where moisture absorption or removal must be considered. Using a quilted top cover, wood shavings, or an insulating pillow will help to keep any condensation from damaging your bees when the temperature meets moisture.

Ventilation

There is still one more thing to keep in mind: airflow. Even though we’ve discussed the difficulties that a colony may encounter with unwanted airflow in a hive, where the exchange of heat in spaces can lead to unwanted condensation. Fresh air should be able to enter a hive and leave the hive with warm, moist air when the bees want this. To ensure this, a top entrance is crucial. The bees can remove the moist air from their colony when they need fresh air by leaving the entrance reducer partially open throughout the winter. It functions similarly to a basement’s air intake.

Conclusion

The hive’s design has a lot to do with how much heat is lost, whether the colony is insulated or not, and how the air is circulated. The more compact, insulated, and controlled ventilation, the higher the energy efficiency of the colony. Remember, rather than getting bogged down in wrapping the hive, make sure it is simple to apply, remove, and reapply throughout the spring months, as well as store throughout the summer.

If you would like to learn more about winter wrap applications, hive top insulation techniques that we use here at ABC Bees, and get live-action advice from our experienced team, then simply join (marketing for the Membership)

Want to gain better knowledge and learn how to wrap your beehive with confidence? Register at our ABC Bees Learning Platform and take a free mini-course to learn:

  • Key considerations when wrapping beehives
  • Purchase supplies
  • Field videos on applying winter wraps on single and quad-palleted colonies.

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