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Notice Board . . .

For those of you interested in the Valhalla long hive, you can contact "The Hive Man" (aka Richard Nichols) by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 541-447-7907. It sounds like a set of plans is in the works as well as complete hives.

Wrapping a feral colony for winter

This past spring, in a remote little outpost in the high desert of Oregon, a feral swarm of honey bees decided to nest. They chose a massive cottonwood adjacent to a popular campground and hung their combs from its aging limbs. With no protection other than a nearby garage and a canopy of leaves, the bees spent the summer raising brood, expanding their nest, and ignoring the flux of campers playing on the Deschutes River.

But as fall approached, the property owner began to wonder about the coming winter. Would the colony be able to survive a central Oregon winter with no protection from the elements? It didn’t seem likely.

In mid-September, the homeowner asked his friends, Rob Deez and Alicia Taylor of Smudgie Goose Farm, to look at the colony. Can it survive? Enthralled by its beauty but unable to say, they in turn contacted beekeepers Larry and Naomi Price and asked them to have a look.

A few days later, Naomi and Larry arrived at the scene with a truckload of tools ready to remove the bees. But after one glance at the fully-exposed colony, they scrapped their initial plan and several alternatives as well. In the end, they covered the colony with a tarp to protect it from the expected rain.

Back home, Naomi contacted Dewey Caron (author of the popular textbook Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping) and asked for advice. Dr. Caron came up with several suggestions:

  • Cut the combs from the tree and tie them into frames
  • Cut out the piece of tree they are clinging to and put the whole thing in a box
  • Leave them alone, but improve their chances by providing some rain and wind protection

After hours of discussion during the next three days, the four of them—Alicia, Rob, Larry, and Naomi—came up with an ingenious plan. They agreed it was too late in the year to cut the combs and expect the bees to patch things together. So instead, they elected to provide a temporarily shelter to help the colony survive the winter.

Using electric-fence wire, they planned to construct a framework that would support a multilayered canopy of canvas, insulation, and waterproofing. Once the colony was covered, it would be on its own till spring.

The plan proceeded without a hitch, and the Maupin, Oregon colony is now tucked in for winter. In the following series of photographs, taken by Naomi Price and Shannon Taylor, you can see the story unfold. If the colony survives the winter, it will be removed to Smudgie Goose Farm in Prineville to be used as an educational tool. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the bees.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Click on any photo for slides and captions.

How do honey bees keep their hive warm?

Honey bees do not heat their hives the way we heat our homes. Instead, they concentrate on keeping the cluster warm by vibrating their flight muscles. The center of the cluster is the warmest part of the hive, and the temperature drops as you move out from the center.

The interior of the hive is warmer than the outside air because heat escapes from the cluster and the hive itself offers a small amount of insulation. But the bees do not attempt to keep the entire space warm. In fact, the air inside the hive can be quite cold.

Because hot air rises, the warmest place outside of the cluster is right above the cluster. A beekeeper can help keep the hive slightly warmer by placing insulation above the cluster to capture some of this escaping heat.

Bill’s hive temperature experiment

In order to help explain this phenomenon to new beekeepers, Bill Reynolds of Minnesota decided to monitor the temperature inside his hives as the colonies plunged into winter. According to Bill, he purchased an inexpensive desktop weather forecasting station with three remote wireless sensors for his project. He used a fourth sensor to monitor the ambient outside air.

The weather cooperated for his experiment. Bill says, “Here in Minnesota we are experiencing bone-chilling temps around zero each morning and mid-twenties, if we are lucky, by noon.”

Bill set up three hives, each with three deeps topped with a quilt box. One hive contained a colony of Carniolans, one a colony of mutts, and one was empty. In each hive he centered the sensor over the third deep but under the quilt box. He did not attempt to place the sensors at the core of the clusters. During the measurement period, the clusters were two deep hive bodies below the sensors.

The hives were not wrapped. All three setups were on the south side of a house with a straw-bale wall blocking northwest winds. According to Bill, “Other than the sensors, there is nothing different between these hives and any other hive one would find in a backyard.”

Partway through the experiment, Bill began recording separate readings for the outside air and empty hive. He made this change because he noticed that the temperatures increased and decreased at different rates inside the empty hive and outside of it. It became apparent that the wooden boxes themselves influenced temperature fluctuations.

Warmer inside, but only slightly

The graph below shows temperature readings for each sensor. It is quite clear from this simple experiment that temperatures inside the active hives rose and fell with the outside temperature, but overall the inside remained warmer than the outside. But far from being cozy, the inside temperatures dropped down into the 30s on the coldest days. It is interesting to see that the two colonies were very consistent with each other, rising and falling in tandem.

It also became clear that the interior of the empty hive box was somwhat warmer than the outside air. I suspect a combination of sun and minimum air movement through the boxes increased the temperature slightly.

Thank you, Bill, for your experiment and awesome graph. Nicely done!

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Graph showing the temperatures inside the three hives, and beginning November 15, outside the hives.
Graph showing the temperatures inside the three hives, and beginning November 15, outside the hives. © Bill Reynolds.
The two populated hives in a warmer time. © Bill Reynolds.
The two populated hives in a warmer time. © Bill Reynolds.

Hourglass bees

Hourglass-bees
These bees have white hourglasses stenciled on their thoraces. Public domain photo.

What looks like an hourglass-shaped paint splotch on the thorax of some bees is actually pollen. In the past I often saw these stripes—usually in yellow—and wondered what they were. The bees look like they squeezed through someone’s freshly painted woodenware.

But according to Rosanna Mattingly in her fascinating book, Honey-Maker, the design occurs when pollen-covered bees groom. The honey bee uses her two midlegs to clean pollen from her forelegs and the back of her thorax. However, there’s a place she can’t quite reach, right down the middle of her back.

She swipes each side of her thorax and the pollen is removed in an arc, much like the sweep of a wiper blade on a car. The hourglass design remains after she’s reached as far as she can on each side.