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    Hive Gallery

    The Hive Gallery features photos of beehives, honey bees, honey . . . whatever readers have sent me. Explore

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    Cookbook

    Not for you, for them. Find recipes for all those tantalizing treats like sugar cakes, pollen substitute, and grease patties. Explore

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    How-to

    Find links to the most popular posts on how to do everything from building a frame to moving a hive. Explore

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    The glossary is constantly updated with definitions, acronyms, initialisms, and links to Wordphile discussions. Explore

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.

Fine Dining

Beef Wellington: a dish of beef, typically coated in pâté de foie gras, wrapped in puff pastry, and baked.

Bee Fwellington: a dish of raw bee, typically coated in pollen, wrapped in legs, and warmed in the sun.


“Crab spider” is a general term for many types of spiders that look and move like crabs, and many of them will eat bees. They don’t target bees specifically but will consume any type of invertebrate they can wrap their legs around.

I’m not a fan of spiders because they have too many legs. More importantly, when a creature’s eyes are arranged in rows, it creeps me out. But crab spiders attract my attention because I’ve watched them pluck foraging bees right out of the air and eat them, head first, with no social grace whatsoever.

The crab spiders don’t spin webs, but ambush invertebrates when they visit a flower. They paralyze their prey with a venomous bite between the head and thorax, which allows them to consume the meal at their leisure. The eight small eyes allow it to detect the slightest movement. True to their name, they can move crablike forward, sideways, and backwards. When prey comes close, their forelegs rise up to strike in crab fashion.

Many of the crab spiders, especially in the genus Misumena in the family Thomisidae, are able to change color to match the flower where they sit. The great camouflage allows them to easily snare a meal. When the spiders remain white while sitting on a flower of a different color, their coloring is thought to mimic bird droppings and, as such, they appear to be harmless.

Click on any photo to view slides.

How to prepare your hives for winter: a checklist

How you prepare your hives for winter depends on where you live, so some of the suggestions below may not apply to you. Nevertheless, the list may give you some ideas. Although the calendar still shows September, those long, dark, cold days of winter are just around the corner. It’s time to get busy.

  • Remove empty supers. Make the space inside the hive commensurate with the size of the colony. If necessary, reduce the hive volume with follower boards, especially in a top-bar hive. A proper interior size is less drafty and less likely to harbor intruders.
  • Check for a laying queen. You should see at least some brood in your hive. If you don’t, order a queen as soon as possible.
  • Check for colony size and combine small ones. Come spring it is better to have one live colony than two dead ones.
  • Check for honey stores. If your hives are too light, it’s time to start feeding with a vengeance.
  • Assure that the honey frames are in the right place, that is, they should be on both sides of the cluster and above it in a Langstroth hive. Move frames around if necessary. In a top-bar hive, put the cluster at one end of the hive and put the honey frames next to the cluster on the other side. This way, the colony can move laterally in one direction to find food.
  • Reduce hive entrances if you haven’t already. It’s time for mice and other small creatures to find a snug and warm overwintering place—one filled with honey is especially attractive.
  • Remove weedy vegetation from the base of the hive. Vegetation is a convenient hiding place for creatures who may want to move into the hive and it can be used like an entrance ramp or stepladder.
  • Use an inner cover under your outer cover for greater insulation.
  • Put a slatted rack in your hive if you don’t already have one. The slatted rack adds space between the bottom of the cluster and the drafty hive opening.
  • Put a wintergreen grease patty in each hive. Grease patties won’t control a large mite infestation, but they can slow the increase of mites during the winter months.
  • If you live in a wet area, make sure your lids will keep out the rain. Make any needed repairs now.
  • If wintertime moisture is a problem in your hives, add a quilt box above the brood boxes.
  • Provide ventilation for your hives: air must be able to come in through the bottom and out through the top. I like to use a screened bottom board all winter long.
  • If high winds are a problem you may consider adding a skirt around the base of your hive to reduce drafts. Although you want adequate ventilation, you don’t want a wind tunnel.
  • If high winds are a problem, secure your lids with heavy stones or tie-downs.
  • If high winds are a problem, you may want to shield upper ventilation holes from side winds.
  • If high winds are a problem, consider providing a windbreak.
  • If extreme cold is a problem, consider wrapping your hives with insulation or tar paper . . . but, again, don’t forget the ventilation.
  • If winter flooding is a problem, move the hives to higher ground now while the weather is still dry.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite