Do you want to know if your colony is alive without using an infrared camera or a stethoscope? Try an instant-read hive thermometer. This neat idea was sent to me by Ken Armes, a beekeeper in Ontario, Canada.
Ken wanted to know if his colony was surviving, but he didn’t think he could get an infrared reading through the insulating material wrapped around his hive. The harsh temperatures of an Ontario winter require good insulation, but the thick layers block both heat and sound, making it hard to assess what is going on inside. But with a little experimentation, Ken discovered an inexpensive way to learn if his bees were alive. He wrote:
Use an electronic cooking temperature device with a probe, insert the probe into the top entrance and check that the temperature is higher than the outside ambient temperature. You’re not looking for a large difference, just an indication that something is generating heat inside. I was getting a temperature difference of two to four degrees Fahrenheit, so I kind thought the hive was okay. Now the girls have confirmed it.
The confirmation came in the form of a warm spell that brought his bees outside in droves.
An idea worth a try
There’s nothing I like better than a creative idea, so this morning I took my little instant-read thermometer outside to give Ken’s idea a try. I don’t have a digital thermometer, but I thought the so-called instant-read thermometer might do the trick.
I always wonder where they got the name “instant-read” because in the digital age, this old-fashion type takes forever to register. Yes, “forever” doesn’t mean what it used to, so I’m talking about 30 seconds or so. But when you’ve got the oven door open, checking on a freshly-baked delicacy, forever seems like the right word.
First I put the thermometer on the back of the pickup and the temperature registered 37 degrees F. Then I took the thermometer to the hive behind my pump house which I knew was alive, although I’ve been concerned about it’s strength.
Spinning the dial
Just as Ken suggested, I stuck the business end of the thermometer into the upper entrance and waited. The first thing that happened surprised me: the thermometer started to spin. It was dancing around and rolling over. I had placed it so I could read it upright, but in no time it was upside down. I fixed it, then it rolled again. My bees were playing with it.
In a few more seconds the bees were coming out of the entrance and climbing all over the thermometer. I took a couple of photos but the bees blocked the dial. I had to keep taking photos until I got a clear view: 92 degrees! In less than a minute, the reading had increased over 50 degrees.
And a free sting, too
When I was done, I pulled the thermometer out, and instantly got stung on the hand: an instant-sting thermometer. “Sorry guys.” I said, “Spin-the-dial time is over.”
I thought Ken’s idea was clearly worth a mention because it is inexpensive, works with insulation, gives you a lot of information, and is fun to watch. The thermometer I have is similar to one they carry at Amazon, just a dial on the end of a rigid probe, about five inches long. I’ve had it for years without ever realizing it would be useful for beekeeping.
Thank you, Ken, for a brilliant idea.
Honey Bee Suite